Alphonso Ramirez’s parents moved to Texas from Mexico as teenagers and met in Fort Worth, where Ramirez was born.
To Ramirez and his family, the city is home.
But on Tuesday evening, as Ramirez stood outside Fort Worth City Hall with an American flag draped over his shoulders and a Rangers ballcap on his head, he worried that feeling might change.
“It’s scary,” he said, “to live somewhere your whole life and now, 22 years later, I have to feel afraid that my dad can’t drive up the road late at night because he might get pulled over and not have his visa on him and end up in jail.”
Ramirez was one of about 400 people on Tuesday who protested the city’s failure, thus far, to join a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4, the controversial new law banning sanctuary cities in Texas.
The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, will give law enforcement officers authority to ask about a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions such as traffic stops. It also requires police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation or face large fines.
The Fort Worth City Council met Tuesday and didn’t close the door on joining the lawsuit — which has already been joined by Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — but it appears unlikely it will do so, as four council members, plus Mayor Betsy Price, oppose the legal action.
The city’s lack of involvement in the lawsuit has drawn criticism from the Hispanic community and Tuesday’s protest was the largest response yet.
The passage of SB4 reflects one thing: It’s a sickness of xenophobia. I urge the City Council to do the right thing. The law is unconstitutional.
Fort Worth school district trustee Jacinto Ramos Jr.
The protesters, most of them holding signs opposing SB4, congregated downtown at General Worth Square, near the John F. Kennedy statue, and then marched to City Hall, shouting “No SB4!” as several in the crowd banged on drums.
Many of the protesters expressed fear that the new law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, will prevent undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes — whether they are victims or witnesses.
“Some individuals in our community already live in fear,” said Norma Garcia-Lopez, a member of the United Fort Worth activist group, which organized the protest. “They fear to call the police for any crime. They’re afraid that if they call the police, they’ll be questioned about their immigrant status. It’s going to make the community feel less safe.”
Fort Worth Assistant Police Chief Ed Kraus, who spoke to the City Council on Tuesday about SB4, said police have already noticed “certain members of our community not reporting crime,” as well an uptick in crimes against immigrants.
Salvador Espino Jr., another protester Tuesday and the son of former city councilman Sal Espino, said SB4 will deepen the divide between the Hispanic community and police.
“Sure, we can all agree that we have to do a better job enforcing our borders,” Espino Jr. said. “However, our contention is that because SB4 enables to police officers to ask individuals if they have their papers, it is institutionalizing racism.”
The marchers were met by two counter-protesters along their route, including one man who held a sign that said, “Deport Criminal Illegal Aliens.”
The man and the other counter-protester shouted, “Build that wall!” One protester responded with “This is our home!” before police separated the crowd.
After reaching City Hall, the protesters gathered on the plaza, where they shouted, “Enough is enough!” and listened to several speakers, including Fort Worth school district trustee Jacinto Ramos Jr.
“The passage of SB4 reflects one thing: It’s a sickness of xenophobia,” Ramos Jr. told the crowd. “I urge the City Council to do the right thing. The law is unconstitutional.”