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Thursday, June 1, 2023


Houston joins legal battle against anti-“sanctuary cities” law

Houston became the final major city to join the lawsuit against Senate Bill 4 on Wednesday. File photo/The Cougar

The Houston City Council voted 10-6 Wednesday to join Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and other local municipalities in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas’ controversial new immigration law, unifying the four largest cities in the state, according to the Texas Tribune.

The lawsuit challenges Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton over Senate Bill 4, which was signed into law by Abbott on May 7 and will take effect Sept. 1, barring a court injunction. The law would allow local law enforcement, including campus police departments, to question the immigration status of people they detain and would punish officials who don’t cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests, or “ICE detainers.”

“There’s a symbolic role that a lawsuit plays in having large urban cities stand up to what they perceive as an effort to micromanage their affairs,” said UH political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “There’s clear symbolism.”

Rottinghaus said local governments object to SB 4 for three reasons: First, it bars individual municipalities from not enforcing federal immigration law; second, they’re worried that a “show-me-your-papers” type of law enforcement will damage valuable relationships with Latino and immigrant groups; and third, the law has a provision that includes a possible fine for local government officials who don’t comply.

All provisions apply to campus police departments, including UHPD, said Geoffrey Hoffman, the director of the UH Law Center’s Immigration Clinic.

Arizona passed a similarly controversial law in 2010, introduced as Arizona Senate Bill 1070, Rottinghaus said. SB 4 is arguably harsher, Hoffman said, because it provides for civil and criminal liability for officials, which SB 1070 did not.

“Also, SB 1070 had a requirement that the police had reasonable suspicion that someone was in the country without legal permission,” Hoffman said. “SB 4 does not have a reasonable suspicion requirement — only that a person is subject to a lawful detention or arrest.”

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia will hear a motion for a preliminary hearing Monday that would block the law from being implemented as the case is worked through the legal system, according to the Texas Tribune.

It’s important to note that Garcia recently ruled in a separate case that ICE detainers violate the 4th amendment, Hoffman said.

“ICE’s own policy is that those detainers are voluntary and not mandatory on law enforcement,” Hoffman said. “The issue coming up is a preliminary injunction hearing, so we expect to see the judge weigh not just the legality of (SB 4) but the harm which could flow to the community from its implementation.”

Maria Treviño-Rodriguez, political science sophomore and the vice president of the Youth Empowerment Alliance, was one of hundreds who attended a public hearing on whether to join the lawsuit at City Hall on Tuesday night.

“We showed that the Latino community and the immigrant community, regardless of race, really do have political power in Houston because of the fact that we’re just such a large portion of the city,” Treviño said. “It’s obvious that if Houston is to remain the most diverse city, we must protect people of color since we are all possible targets of racial profiling.”

Treviño is part of a new organization on campus called the Cougar Voice Coalition, she said. The group plans to launch a campaign this fall — when SB 4 becomes law  to establish UH as a sanctuary campus

“What that means for us is to create policies that protect and advocate for immigrant communities on campus but also that curb or try to prevent racial profiling that may occur with the campus police department,” she said.

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