Texas is facing growing criticism after the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, signed into law one of the nation’s harshest immigration bills, SB 4. The state bans sanctuary cities and allows police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they detain. The law was opposed by many powerful forces in Texas, including the police chiefs of every big city in the state as well as major religious leaders. For more, we speak with Gregorio Casar, a member of the Austin City Council, and Texas state Representative Rafael Anchía, who serves as chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The state of Texas is facing growing criticism from the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, who signed one of the nation’s harshest immigration laws. Abbott signed the bill, Senate Bill 4, Sunday night during a Facebook Live event with no advance public warning. The state bans sanctuary cities and allows police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they detain. Governor Abbott spoke about the new law in an interview Monday with “Fox & Friends.”
GOV. GREG ABBOTT: I was proud last night to sign this law. This law effectively bans sanctuary cities in the state of Texas. What it means is that no county, no city, no governmental body in the state of Texas can adopt any policy that provides sanctuary. Second, what it means is that law enforcement officials, such as sheriffs, are going to be required to comply with ICE detainer requests.
AMY GOODMAN: The Texas law was opposed by many powerful forces in Texas, including the police chiefs of every big city in the state as well as major religious leaders. Catholic Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston said, quote, “Immigration law should be enforced in a way that is targeted, proportional and humane. This bill does not meet the standard,” unquote. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus warned the law will result in increased racial profiling and undocumented residents who are afraid of reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses because they fear deportation. Police chiefs, sheriffs and jail administrators are also targeted in the new bill, which allows for the state to fine or remove any official who doesn’t comply with immigration detention requests from federal authorities. The state of Texas is expected to face numerous legal challenges to the bill before it goes into effect in September. Some critics of SB 4 have compared the law to Arizona’s SB 1070, the so-called “show me your papers” law, parts of which were deemed to be unconstitutional.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We go now to Austin to speak to two guests. Gregorio Casar is a member of the Austin City Council. He was arrested last week after taking part in a sit-in at the state Capitol protesting SB 4. We’re also joined by Texas state Representative Rafael Anchía, who serves as a chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives.
Gregorio Casar and Rafael Anchía, welcome to Democracy Now! Gregorio, could you talk about your situation, the arrest, your arrest last week, and the movement of public officials opposed to SB 4?
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: Yeah, sure. The governor is clearly trying to coerce our communities and coerce local elected officials into betraying immigrants, into turning our police into Trump’s deportation force. And we’re going to refuse to do that.
We had a sit-in at the Governor’s Office last week. We sat for nine hours, a group of clergy, elected officials and community leaders, and we were ultimately arrested. But more importantly, we sent a strong message to the governor that we are not scared, that we are not afraid, and that he is not the king. And so, instead of caving in to his demands, we’re going to double down on our pro-immigrant policies here in Austin and across the state.
And we were also recently sued. I, personally, and my colleagues here in Austin were sued by the attorney general just for the audacity of questioning whether or not Senate Bill 4 is constitutional. And instead of being silenced by his threats, I am calling not only on my colleagues, but on councilmembers and county commissioners across Texas, to rise up and speak truth to power and to sue to stop Senate Bill 4 before it’s ever enforced.
And so, we are facing an authoritarian-style regime at the statewide level, an authoritarian-style policy, and we need support from across the state and across the country to stop what I believe is the greatest legislative threat to immigrants in our country right now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You mentioned the lawsuit by the attorney general. This was unusual. This happened when? Yesterday or Sunday night? And it also was a sort of a preemptive suit in federal court to uphold the legality of the law rather than wait for anyone else to sue the — over the constitutionality of the law?
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: It’s a very unusual and cowardly move by the attorney general. The governor signed this law on a Sunday night, by himself, in his office, out of public view. And then, that same night, the attorney general turned around and sued Austin city councilmembers, mayors, county judge and sheriff merely for questioning whether or not that law was constitutional. And so, even though the governor is trying to instill fear in our communities, it seems that he is actually the one exhibiting cowardice and fear, as he sees public backlash and things going wrong in the court of public opinion and also things potentially going wrong in court.
And so, you’re going to be seeing a summer of resistance here in Texas against Senate Bill 4. We won’t be intimidated by the governor and by the attorney general, because the stakes are much too high. They are trying to make us ground zero for Trump’s America, and we can’t let that happen here in Texas, because it could spread to so many other places, and it would affect our immigrant brothers and sisters so much.
AMY GOODMAN: In an interview with “Fox & Friends” Monday, Texas Governor Abbott was asked to respond to concerns raised by some state officials that SB 4 will lead to the harassment and racial profiling of the Latino community.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT: The people who are coming into the United States, especially across the border in Texas, are coming not just from Mexico. In fact, most of the people coming across the border in Texas are not from Mexico. They are from people around the entire globe. So this has nothing whatsoever to do with those who are Hispanics, point one. Point two, most of the Hispanics who are in the state of Texas are here legally, and they have absolutely nothing to worry about. Point three, it is illegal for a law enforcement officer to racially profile anybody. And so, if somebody does that, the law enforcement officer will be in a lot of trouble themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Texas Governor Abbott on Fox. Texas state Representative Rafael Anchía, then, what do you have to worry about? Why are you so concerned? And can you talk about what you see is the greatest threat of this new Texas law?
REP. RAFAEL ANCHÍA: Well, certainly. And I’m trying to counsel people not to use the sanctuary cities language. I mean, this is really an Arizona-style “papers, please” bill. We shouldn’t be surprised with respect to this move by the governor. When he was attorney general, he signed and offered an amicus curiae brief in support of Senate Bill 1070. So this has been part of his record.
And I’ll tell you why I’m concerned. The “papers, please” bill comes about one week after a sixth judicial court opinion finding intentional discrimination on the part of the state of Texas against Latinos. That has been found both in the redistricting context and in the photo ID context, which are ways to shut Latinos out of the political process. So, after that sixth opinion finding intentional discrimination, the state of Texas doubles down with this “papers, please” bill. And, you know, the state of Texas is 40 percent Latino. The people who are going to be asked for their papers are going to be Latinos, for the most part. It’s going to be people whose — who are not English — English speakers. It’s going to be people who look differently. It’s going to be people who are more brown.
And the reality is that this bill was sold on a pack of mistruths. It was designed to conflate criminality with immigrants, even though immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than even the native-born, and at a time, candidly — and this is contrary to what the governor said in the last clip — that immigration is at its lowest level since the 1970s. But in a political move, the governor, true to his record, has decided to conflate criminality, immigration, to score political points. And it is — it is offensive and craven, frankly, for him to do it on some of our most vulnerable populations.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this whole issue of all the police chiefs that have come out opposed to the bill? On Monday, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus addressed some of his concerns about the legislation.
CHIEF WILLIAM McMANUS: My concern over all this is the effect, the impact, that it will have on the community. Even though the bill doesn’t stipulate that we are required to ask, just the mere fact that some — that an officer out there may ask or someone — or that folks understand that the officers can ask, might ask, then I think that instills a level of fear in the community, which is what we didn’t want to happen, to begin with. We don’t want people to go fly under the radar.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Rafael Anchía, what about this uniform opposition by all the police chiefs of the major cities of Texas?
REP. RAFAEL ANCHÍA: The governor tried to sell this by saying that having this bill passed would make us safer, when in fact it makes us less safe. That’s why law enforcement across the state came out against this. And they were also joined by the faith community and by the business community. There was broad-based opposition to this effort. Nonetheless, it was more important for the governor to score political points against our vulnerable immigrant population than listen to police chiefs, the business community and the faith community. He often talks about his faith as driving his public policy. But in this case, he signed the bill on a Sunday, which is a time when our immigrant community and a lot of Texas is either with family or in church. And he did it in a really cowardly way. He has not been listening to anybody. And it leads me to believe this is just about his electoral prospects in politics.
AMY GOODMAN: Rafael Anchía, after the passage of the bill, you tweeted to Governor Abbott, “We will see you in court.” The state has said that the bill is Supreme Court-tested. What exactly do you think the approach should be?
REP. RAFAEL ANCHÍA: Well, the ACLU, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, we’re all looking at challenging this in court. The bill does not go into effect until September 1st. So we’ve got this summer, and now this most recent lawsuit by the attorney general, to go ahead and challenge this. There will likely be challenges on preemption grounds, on impermissible intent grounds and a number of other legal theories. We feel pretty good about successfully holding this up in court and challenging it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gregorio Casar, I wanted to ask you — Rafael Anchía mentions that Texas is 40 percent Latino. But when you go to below your area of the state, in Austin, when you go to San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley and the border, you’re talking about counties that are 70 percent, 80 percent Latino. The impact, especially on South Texas, of this kind of legislation?
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: This legislation is not just about Austin, where the attorney general is suing us. It’s about every Texan. Even in some parts of a city like Austin, you have communities that look a lot like South Texas. Parts of my own district are vastly Latino and immigrant. As a matter of fact, I have neighborhoods where Spanish is the predominant language, far over English. And when there were ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sweeps here in Austin earlier this year, I saw the terror that that created in the community. I saw the trauma in children’s eyes those days, when they thought that their parents might be removed by the government. And what Greg Abbott wants is for those children to re-experience that trauma every single time they see a police officer in their communities, not just when there’s an ICE raid. And that’s why, from South Texas to North Texas, cities all across the state need to rise up, litigate and sue and resist against Senate Bill 4 and refuse to turn our jails and our police into extensions of Trump’s deportation machine.
AMY GOODMAN: During an interview with “Fox & Friends” Monday, Texas Governor Abbott explained the ramifications for sheriffs and mayors who do not comply with SB 4.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT: By them not complying, what that would mean is they have adopted a policy that promotes sanctuary city policies, which means that they would be not complying with the law. If they do promote sanctuary city policies, what it means is they could be subject to jail time. It means they could be subject to being removed from office. It means that their city or county could be subject to fines and penalties of up to $25,000 per day.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Greg Casar, I wanted to ask you about this. In March, Texas US Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said in open court that federal agents had alerted him that ICE would be targeting the area, your area of Austin, Texas. The raids would be retribution for Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s new policy that limited cooperation between local and federal authorities. Can you talk about Sally Hernandez’s standoff with the governor and what this new law will mean for her and for other sheriffs?
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: For years, even in the progressive Travis County, we were deporting more of our immigrant community members than almost anywhere else in the country. And so there was a sustained campaign to have a new sheriff, and we were proud to have Sheriff Hernandez as our new sheriff. And she has demanded that these detainers come with criminal warrants and to stop holding people in her jail for deportation without warrants. She made that policy shift the day of Trump’s inauguration, and we soon faced political retaliation from the federal government, as was confirmed by Judge Austin. And families were being torn apart here because of that political decision.
And that shows why things like Senate Bill 4 and what we’re facing here in Texas are not just threats to immigrant families, but threats to our democratic system. The governor thinks he’s king, and thinks that he can start removing people from office if we don’t go along with what he says. But the fact of the matter is, his mandates are unlawful. And we should not be following immoral and unlawful mandates from the governor. And so that’s why the sit-in and protests have been so important for us to show the governor that even if he threatens to criminalize elected officials, even if he threatens to fine us or remove us from office, that we’re not going to betray our communities, and we’re not going to betray our Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Gregorio Casar, Austin city councilmember, and Texas state Representative Rafael Anchía, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives. Of course, we will continue to follow this story.
Coming up, a young woman, a Rutgers student, is, at the time of this broadcast, turning herself in to ICE, or going in for an ICE interview. We will learn soon what happens to her. Stay with us.