Austin leaders lay out their claim that sanctuary city law is unconstitutional

From left, Council Member Delia Garza, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar, announcing the city filing a motion of preliminary injunction against Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities law, on June 19, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)
From left, Council Member Delia Garza, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar, announcing the city filing a motion of preliminary injunction against Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities law, on June 19, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s mayor along with several city council members announced their official filing of a suit Monday ahead of next week’s hearing in front of a federal judge in San Antonio over the legality of the new sanctuary cities law.

Earlier this month, Austin joined San Antonio, El Paso County and El Cenizo, Texas in their lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.

Mayor Steve Adler stated Monday that Austin finds SB4 to be unconstitutional under the first and fourth amendments as well as the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He also stated that the law violates established Texas law.

The Austin City Council first voted to authorize the lawsuit against the ban on May 18 in a 10-to-1 vote. Council Member Ellen Troxclair was the lone vote against the measure.

Mayor Adler and Council Members Greg Casar, Delia Garza, and Pio Renteria stated Monday that they believe the law would disproportionately impact Latinos in the community. The council members also believe the law will ask local law enforcement to act as immigration agents, taking them away from their daily duties. Adler also stated that SB4 would harm Austin’s economy and lead to extended, unconstitutional detentions.

“The lawsuit seeks to show that Texas and ICE have collaborated to punish Austin and Travis county, to show that the ICE raids in February inflicted grievous injury on our city,” Adler said.

The motion filed Monday was supported by statements from several council members, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, South by Southwest leadership, and others.

“[SB 4] says pretty explicitly that the governor and attorney general have the ability to remove from public office elected officials that would endorse a policy different than represented in Senate Bill 4, and I just want to say that we’re here today representing a policy contrary to Senate Bill 4, because that law is wrong and it is not just,” Adler said.

Council Member Casar told stories of his constituents not reporting sexual violence, students being concerned to leave their families for college, and families giving their animals away to avoid noise complaints, all out of fear related to SB 4. He noted that the People’s Community Clinic filed an exhibit in the case saying that the no-show rate at their clinic increased over 50 percent during the ICE raids in Austin and the debate over SB 4.

He added that the costs of filing this lawsuit are “tiny” compared to the projected cost to Austin’s economy and resources to implement SB 4.

Ashleen Menchaca-Bagnulo, associate professor of politics at Texas State University, teaches constitutional law, and said that Austin has grounds to argue the constitutionality of SB 4.

“I think a larger issue is going to be this ‘show me your papers’ aspect of SB 4 where they have the ability to pull people over and ask to see proof that they are citizens, it is going to disproportionately affect, not just Latinos generally, but Latinos who have lived here forever and are just as much citizens as Greg Abbott,” said Menchaca-Bagnulo.

“[The attorneys for the state of Texas] have to prove why there isn’t such a violation of the individual rights of Latinos in trying to enforce this law, that’s going to be a much harder case to make,” she explained, adding that the state will have to make the case for the need to increase state police powers.

The State of Texas has until Friday to file their responsive pleadings.

Mayor Adler also noted that his legal staff was contacted by President Trump’s Justice Department Monday regarding this case.

“They’ve indicated an intent to file a notice of interest and a request to appear, if that happens, then they would certainly be part of the large groups that are gathering in the courtroom on Monday,” he said.

The preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Monday, June 26 in U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s court.

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