The Austin City Council voted Thursday to countersue the state of Texas over a recently enacted ban of sanctuary cities, setting up a legal fight that could expand to include other cities.
By a 10 to 1 vote, the council approved legal action against Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), reports Austin’s NBC affiliate KXAN. The controversial law imposes criminal penalties on law enforcement officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities and allows local police to ask about suspects’ immigration status.
Council member Greg Casar had previously indicated the city’s intent to move forward with a lawsuit, warning Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Wednesday: “We’ll see you in court.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a preemptive lawsuit against the Austin City Council, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez May 8, just one day after Abbott signed SB 4 into law. State lawyers are asking a federal district court to find that SB 4 does not violate the Fourth Amendment right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures or the 14th Amendment right to equal protection. (RELATED: Texas Files Lawsuit Against Potential Opponents Of New Anti-Sanctuary Law)
“[The law] is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” Paxton added. “Unfortunately, some municipalities and law enforcement agencies are unwilling to cooperate with the federal government and claim that SB 4 is unconstitutional.”
Casar, who was arrested this month for refusing to leave Abbott’s office during a protest, rejected Paxton’s assertion. In a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday, Casar said that SB 4 is, “The most dangerous type of legislative threat facing immigrants in our country.”
The council member questioned the legality of a provision of SB 4, which opponents call a “show me your papers” bill. It permits police officers to question the immigration status of anyone they arrest or detain, including the subjects of traffic stops.
“This provision resembles those in laws passed in Arizona and Alabama in recent years, both of which invited national scorn and were partially struck down when challenged in court,” Casar wrote.
The Texas Attorney General’s office declined to comment on pending litigation, but a spokesman for the governor told The Daily Caller News Foundation that SB 4’s opponents are misrepresenting what the bill requires police officers to do.
“The law does not require mandatory immigration checks, it simply prohibits local sheriffs from banning law enforcement officials from inquiry into the immigration status of persons already lawfully detained,” John Wittman, Abbott’s press secretary, wrote in an email. “Before a person can be detained, law enforcement must have probable cause that a crime has been committed. Even then, law enforcement officers are not required to ask about legal status.”
Democratic officials in other Texas cities — including Dallas, Houston and El Paso — are also weighing options to contest SB 4, possibly by assisting Austin in a defense against the state lawsuit or filing their own lawsuits against the state. (RELATED: Texas Cities Plan Legal Fight Against Anti-Sanctuary Law)
“Next week out in the Dallas City Council, we will be discussing intervening in the case, coming to the aid of Austin,” said Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston at an anti-SB 4 rally on Tuesday. “Because we have a large city attorney’s office, we have a lot of resources and the fight is now in the court and it’s time to all stand together.”
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