AUSTIN — State troopers arrested about 20 protesters denouncing Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill, who refused to leave a state office building after it closed at 5 p.m. Monday
Split into two groups, protesters, including immigrants, faith leaders and elected officials, locked arms and blocked both entrances of the State Insurance Building for several hours. They called on Gov. Greg Abbott to veto SB4, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock which would require local governments to cooperate with federal immigration officers and hold jail inmates, otherwise eligible for release, for possible federal detention and deportation.
The measure, authored by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would require police to enforce federal immigration law by asking for the immigration status of people they detain. Opponents have called it the “show-me-your-papers” bill.
The protesters conducted teach-ins and chanted, eventually joined by about 200 people who had planned to mark International Workers Day at the Capitol but came to the insurance building instead. The new arrivals, organized by the Worker’s Defense, stayed outside, holding signs and playing music.
After 5 p.m. Texas Department of Public Safety troopers began citing protesters who remained inside, warning they would be arrested if they didn’t leave.The majority left, but about two dozen protesters still linked arms while sitting down. Those who did not leave after being ticketed were handcuffed, charged with criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor, then released.
Troopers called Travis County Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu to arraign them at the scene to avoid having to book them into jail.
“What they said was that because of the volume of cases at the jail, and in order to make this process of so many people being arrested efficient, they brought in (the justice of the peace) here to this building to process us here,” said Greg Casar, an Austin City Council member who was among those charged.
Organized by advocacy groups ICE Out of Austin, Austin Sanctuary Network, Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, the protesters attempted to keep people from entering the building by sitting just inside the doorways for about eight hours before it closed at 5 p.m.
At one teach-in, Barbara Hines, an immigration rights attorney, questioned the constitutionality of SB 4. It could allow a person to be placed in custody for 48 hours “just because of being asked about their immigration status at a traffic stop,” Hines said.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus is among those who have spoken out against the bill.
Police chiefs of Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio and the Texas Police Chiefs Association released a letter Friday predicting the bill will “lead to distrust of police, less cooperation from members of the community and will foster the belief that they cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.”
Members of the National Lawyers Guild monitored the protest. About 15 minutes before the building closed, they started writing the names of those who planned on staying in case they got arrested.
“We’re here as neutral legal observers being able to provide eyewitness account and documenting what happens during the protest or during civilian encounters with law enforcement,” Eva Sikes, a member of the lawyers group, said. “We never know what will happen so we want to be able to provide good testimony.”
Before being arrested, Casar said the protesters would continue to oppose a dangerous and unconstitutional bill.
“Regardless of the governor’s threat to tear families apart, we will continue this fight,” Casar said. “We are not scared of being criminalized or marginalized because we stand with our immigrant communities. The day (Gov. Abbott) signs this bill is only the very beginning of the real fire against SB 4.”
This article was published in the San Antonio Express-News May 2, 2017.