SAN JUAN, RGV – Law enforcement officials up and down the Texas-Mexico border have different opinions on the merits of Senate Bill 4, the so-called “Show Me Your Papers” legislation.

While 25 law enforcement officials in South Texas have signed on to an op-ed from Gov. Greg Abbott in support of SB 4, El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, along with El Paso County and the Texas Organizing Project have filed a lawsuit alleging the legislation violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2), and the Texas Constitution.

The civil lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, on Monday against the State of Texas, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw. The law firm of Garza Golando Moran, PLLC, filed the suit on behalf of El Paso County, and Sheriff Wiles. The Texas Civil Rights Project assisted the Texas Organizing Project.

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles

Click here to view the lawsuit.

In a news release, El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal’s office says El Paso has filed the lawsuit to block implementation of the “anti-immigrant Texas Senate Bill 4.” The complaint alleges SB4 is unconstitutional and will greatly harm El Paso County residents.

“The lawsuit alleges Senate Bill 4 is a discriminatory legislation that unnecessarily makes Texas less safe while eroding the discretion of elected officials and local communities to govern themselves,” the news release states. “Its implications particularly affect a border community like El Paso County that is over 80 percent Hispanic and whose residents already face diminished Constitutional rights as a result of its location next to Mexico.”

The news release states that, ironically, like most of Texas, El Paso County is not a sanctuary city. “It cooperates with federal law enforcement agencies and is already one of the safest large cities in the United States,” the news release states.

The news release also states:

“SB 4 inexplicably and unconstitutionally seeks to erode the discretion of local law enforcement and local elected officials to create policies and practices that keep the community safe and that respect the rights of the nationalities and races of all residents and visitors.”

The discriminatory intent of this law is made clear by the legislative process and intent of its creation. It is unconstitutionally vague and oversteps the US and Texas constitutional protections of free speech, local discretion and regulation of immigration laws. It is for these reasons that El Paso filed this suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

The lawsuit asks the court to:

  • Declare SB4 unconstitutional and invalid.
  • Enjoin the State of Texas from enforcing SB4.
  • Award El Paso County court costs and attorney’s fees.

In part, the lawsuit contends SB4 violates the Texas Constitution because it interferes with El Paso County’s ability to exercise its broad discretion in accomplishing its constitutionally assigned duties to provide county government services to all its residents. It also interferes with the El Paso County Sheriff’s constitutional duty to decide policy in the area of law enforcement, including the operation of the County jail, removing all discretion to make and enforce rules. SB4 also interferes with the El Paso County Attorney’s exclusive prosecutorial function, and its discretion regarding her duty to protect victims of crime, including victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

Texas Civil Rights Project

In its news release, the Texas Civil Rights Project says that by permitting local officers to demand “papers” from virtually any person in Texas at any time, SB4 invites racial profiling.

“History and logic supports that all Texans will not be equally subject to this harassment: Texans of Latino heritage and immigrants and their families, particularly those from Mexico, Central America and other Spanish-speaking countries, will be targeted,” the news release states.

Efrén C. Olivares

“Plaintiffs also argue that the measure, signed into law by Governor Abbott just two weeks ago, unlawfully impedes efforts of local law enforcement, including by mandating potentially unconstitutional immigration detainers and removing democratically elected representatives from office should they fail to comply with provisions that are vaguely defined.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project points out that before SB 4 was signed into law, the “show me your papers” law already faced stiff resistance from the immigrant community, domestic violence and family advocacy groups, as well as by Texas sheriffs and police chiefs. They argued that the law breeds distrust in law enforcement and endangers public safety.

“At its core, SB4 is an attempt to turn all Texas cities, counties, and university police departments into immigration officers,” the news release adds, pointing out that unless halted by the federal courts, SB4 is set to go into effect on September 1, 2017.

Efrén C. Olivares, racial and economic justice director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:

“All Texans, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to live free of harassment and discrimination. The “show me your papers” law targets communities that have been attacked by both the state and federal governments already, further upending the lives of immigrant families throughout Texas.

“For over a quarter-century, TCRP has successfully challenged discriminatory laws targeting immigrant communities in Texas. SB4 is no different. Working together with our grassroots partners and legal allies, we will challenge this law in and out of the courts. This attack on human dignity will not stand.”

Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, said:

Michelle Tremillo

“We’ve joined this lawsuit because SB4 would be destructive and hurtful, not only to the people of color who will be subject to increased racial profiling, but to the state’s economy and safety. It seems everyone in this state, except the white men who voted for SB4, is aware that nothing good will come from this law.

“But helping improve the state doesn’t seem to be the legislature’s intent lately. It seems that they’re finishing out the session by slashing the rights and freedoms of everyone who is not exactly like them: straight, white, Christian men.

“The lawsuit is one way we can fight back. We’re also going to continue organizing and mobilizing on the streets and at the ballot box. The people have the power, and it’s time for us to show it.”


Also, Monday, Olivares launched a petition in opposition to SB 4. In an email to supporters of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Olivares wrote:

What would it feel like to be asked by a police officer to prove your U.S. citizenship because of the color of your skin? Under a recently passed law, Senate Bill 4, demands of “show me your papers” could become the norm.

Will you add your name to support our legal challenge?

In addition to inviting racial profiling, the anti-immigrant SB4 would also potentially remove democratically elected officials from office and allow the illegal detention of immigrants in jails across Texas — all in violation of rights protected by our U.S. Constitution.

This attack on human dignity will not stand. Today, we sued the state to stop this law from going into effect, representing the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund and in partnership with El Paso County.

For over a quarter-century, the Texas Civil Rights Project has successfully challenged anti-immigrant laws in Texas. SB4 is no different. Immigrant communities in Texas have already faced numerous attacks from the Trump administration and the state government. We must fight back.

Join our fight against SB4, add your name in support.

Along with your support, our legal challenge will show Texas officials and the federal that we will not sit idly by while our communities are under attack.

In solidarity,

Efrén C. Olivares
Racial & Economic Justice Director

Click here to view the petition.