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UPDATE: Immigration Activists Criticize Latest Ruling On SB4 And Say It Will Cause Racial Profiling

Members and supporters of United We Dream, Texas Organizing Project, SEIU Texas and Mi Familia Vota participated in a rally at Houston’s City Hall

Photo courtesy of Chris Valdez (United We Dream)
Members and supporters of several pro-immigration reform groups rallied on March 14, 2018, at the entrance to Houston's City Hall to criticize the latest court ruling on the Texas law commonly known as SB4.

Members and supporters of several pro-immigration reform groups rallied Wednesday at the entrance to Houston's City Hall to criticize the latest court ruling on the Texas law commonly known as SB4 and Mayor Sylvester Turner told them he supports their cause.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a unanimous ruling on Tuesday that allows for the implementation of almost the entirety of the bill, which takes aim at so-called ‘sanctuary cities.'

The rally was organized by the Houston chapter of United We Dream (UWD) and members and supporters of other organizations such as Texas Organizing Project, SEIU Texas and Mi Familia Vota also participated.

Damaris González, a local organizer with UWD, said her group's message to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the court and President Donald Trump is that they will keep fighting “to protect our communities and families from all their attacks.”

González added the activists will fight for their communities to live a life with dignity and “in peace” and urged Houston’s elected officials to “take the lead and protect the undocumented community.”

Also on behalf of UWD, Karla Pérez lamented her group's efforts in 2017 to stop the passage of SB4 in the Texas Legislature were unsuccessful.

“From the very beginning, we know what it was about, we know that it was about racially profiling our community,” Pérez noted as she addressed the crowd “we know that it was about making our community vulnerable for deportation and, at the same time, I saw each month that we were at the State Capitol how these legislators would laugh in our face when we told them that it (SB4) would lead to racial profiling.”

Andrea Guttin, legal director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) –which just this week has extended the hours of service of a hotline for immigrants—, assured that “SB4 will decrease access to legal counsel because it encourages racial profiling leading to more arrests, which will mean more people are placed under detainer and face deportation in a detention center.”

“Individuals in detention are much less likely to have access to an attorney,” Guttin noted and added that access to an attorney makes a “huge difference” in immigration cases because having legal representation “can increase a person’s chance of winning their claim to stay in the United States lawfully up to 14 fold.”

Carlos Duarte, who leads the organization Mi Familia Vota in Texas, said that “local police has the capacity to direct their resources to their priorities and we are here to call on the chief of police and the sheriff so that they direct their resources to make our communities safer and not to play the role of ICE.”

Duarte also predicted the implementation of SB4 will make immigrant communities less safe because of fear about reporting crimes and taking the risk of being detained.

An official with the communications department for the Houston Police Department (HPD) said Chief Art Acevedo considers the ruling will not have a significant impact in Houston because HPD officers have already been abiding by SB4 since it went into effect last September and there have been very few situations in which officers had to inquire about immigration status.

According to the HPD official, Acevedo has given instructions to his officers to include information about immigration status inquiries –in case they have occurred— in their reports, along with information about the reason for the inquiry.

Photo: Office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also spoke at the March 14, 2018, rally in reaction to the latest court ruling on SB4 and said in a statement the court’s decision was “disappointing.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also spoke at the rally and told the crowd “we value diversity in our city, we value inclusiveness in our city and, and, irrespective of the decision yesterday, it’s not the end.”

“We are in this for the long haul,” said Turner and added: “We do stand with you, that’s why the City of Houston joined in the lawsuit against Senate Bill 4.”

Later in the day, Turner sent out a written statement categorizing the court’s ruling as “disappointing.”

It remains my position,” the mayor’s statement added “that the Houston Police Department is not U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and HPD should not function as an arm of ICE. Houston Police officers should not be required to question the citizenship status of anyone they arrest or turn information over to federal immigration officials.”

The activists also mentioned the case of Dennis Sarmiento, who was detained this year after being involved in an altercation at Houston's Austin High School.

Governor Abbott praised the court ruling and, through his Twitter feed, wrote: “Allegations of discrimination were rejected. Law is in effect.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick also expressed satisfaction about the ruling and said in a statement that SB4 “simply requires that local authorities cooperate with federal immigration officials.”

“Hopefully this ruling will make the law crystal clear for those liberal public officials in some Texas cities who have flaunted their opposition to SB 4 and misrepresented its intent. SB 4 will prevent the release of dangerous criminals into our communities and will make us all safer,” Patrick added in his statement.

Attorney General Ken Paxton provided another reaction from a Texas elected official. Paxton said in a statement that “enforcing immigration law prevents the release of individuals from custody who have been charged with serious crimes.”

Paxton, who underscored the court's ruling concluded SB4 doesn't violate the Constitution, also wrote “dangerous criminals shouldn't be allowed back into our communities to possibly commit more crimes.”

Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, also reacted positively to the ruling.

Simpson said in a statement SB4 is a “common-sense law” and added it “empowers Texas law enforcement officers to make sure dangerous criminals who are also in our country illegally can be sent back home.”

“With this sensible ruling, neighborhoods across Texas are safer with this law in place,” concluded Simpson’s statement.

As for the next steps in the litigation about SB4, Efrén Olivares, director of Racial and Economic Justice with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the options include requesting a hearing with the entire Court of Appeals –given that Tuesday's ruling was issued by a panel of three judges— and, in case that potential new hearing had an “adverse” ruling, the plaintiffs might consider presenting the lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Click below to watch UWD’s rally:



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