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City of Dallas Will Fight Texas' Immigration Enforcement Bill in Court

Opponents of SB 4 visited Dallas City Hall on Wednesday.
Opponents of SB 4 visited Dallas City Hall on Wednesday.
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Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings announced late Wednesday afternoon that the city of Dallas will join several of its fellow Texas cities in a legal challenge to Texas Senate Bill 4. The decision came after a parade of open-mic speakers encouraged the City Council to do so and followed a lengthy executive session.

SB 4's most controversial provisions allow local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of anyone they arrest or detain in a situation like a traffic stop and call for the removal of any local official who fails to fully honor state or local immigration law.

"The bill is unconstitutional and would infringe upon the city’s ability to protect public safety," Rawlings said. "My City Council colleagues and I understand the serious constitutional concerns with SB 4. On the advice of the City Attorney’s Office, we will work with other cities throughout the state to challenge this bill in court."

The Texas Legislature passed the bill following high-profile conflicts between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and sheriffs in Travis and Dallas counties. The county sheriffs elected to change the ways in which their offices would handle detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so that only those charged with violent or serious crimes would be automatically detained for ICE should they make bail.

Critics of SB 4 liken the new law, signed by Abbott in May and effective Sept. 1, to legislation like Arizona's SB 1070, the 2010 bill that derisively became known as the state's "show me your papers" law. A settlement between the state and immigration rights groups largely defanged SB 1070 in 2016, and the state paid $1.4 million in attorney's fees to the plaintiff.

Rawlings indicated Wednesday that Dallas will likely join San Antonio and Austin in their suit to stop the bill, rather than filing its own litigation. The first hearing in the case, filed in federal court in San Antonio, is set for June 26. Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs confirmed the city's plans late Wednesday afternoon on Facebook.

"Following today's executive session, the city of Dallas will be joining San Antonio and Austin as plaintiffs in litigation to challenge the constitutionality of SB 4," he said.  

Dallas City Council member Lee Kleinman isn't excited that the city, already facing multiple lawsuits over police back pay, is getting into another suit. He would've preferred an amicus brief, he said, but he supports the city's challenge to SB 4.

"I am not interested in turning Dallas police officers into immigration officers. Virtually all law enforcement agencies are against SB 4 because it creates an environment where people are preyed upon because criminals know they won't call the police," Kleinman said. "SB 4 is both a preemption to the city's local authority as well as an unfunded mandate."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed his own preemptive lawsuit in an attempt to have a federal court rule SB 4 constitutional before challenges to the law wound their way through the courts. The law, he said, is essential to protecting Texas from illegal immigration.

"SB 4 guarantees cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement to protect Texans. Unfortunately, some municipalities and law enforcement agencies are unwilling to cooperate with the federal government and claim that SB 4 is unconstitutional," Paxton said.

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