BROWNSVILLE, RGV – U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia implemented a temporary injunction late Wednesday of key provisions of Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB 4).
In a 94-page ruling, Garcia questioned the constitutionality of major parts of the so-called “sanctuary cities” or “show me your papers” law, leaving it virtually toothless as it goes into effect today.
News of the decision prompted celebratory gatherings from organizers of La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, who have long been vocal opponents of the bill.
At LUPE headquarters in San Juan, executive director Juanita Valdez-Cox highlighted their victory and led the group in chanting “si, se puede!” – yes, we can – and “el pueblo unido jamás será vencindo” – the people united will never be defeated.
“We realize this is just the beginning of a long battle, and the community is prepared to continue organizing and speaking out whenever their rights are assaulted by laws like SB 4,” Valdez-Cox said.
In Brownsville, members of RGV Equal Voice Network met in front of the city’s police department. Representatives from Proyecto Azteca, Proyecto Juan Diego and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas spoke about the injunction and what it will mean for residents.
As written, SB 4 prohibits the adoption of policies that would “materially limit” immigration enforcement. It also compels officers to detain individuals at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and punishes officials who do not cooperate with federal immigration officers. With Wednesday’s injunction, each of these provisions has been temporarily halted.
Speakers at both events, however, reminded attendees that police officers still retained broad discretion to inquire about their citizenship.
“Police still have that authority – they have the protection – to ask for immigration status … This law didn’t give them that power. That power was already there,” explained John-Michael Torres, communications coordinator for LUPE. “What this law was trying to do was … put rules on how and when to do that.”
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said simply being undocumented is not grounds for arrest, and that, if questioned, undocumented immigrants can invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
“The judge was very clear in his guidance, in his decision about this,” Burke said. “But, it is important for law enforcement to be mindful that asking about status doesn’t get them anywhere, so to speak, because they can’t arrest you for it.”
As the lawsuit challenging SB-4 moves forward, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state will “immediately” appeal the preliminary injunction.
Emboldened by Garcia’s ruling, activists say they will see Abbott in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. For now, they plan to continue with their scheduled outreach events, including tonight’s vigil at LUPE headquarters for families that will be negatively affected by SB 4.
“Now is the time to institute protections, to institute policies that limit immigration enforcement by police, and that protect everyone against racial profiling and that idea of using somebody’s appearance or the sound of their voice to investigate their immigration status,” Torres said.