Residents pressing the Fort Worth City Council to formally vote on whether to join a lawsuit challenging the state’s new “sanctuary cities” law will get their wish.
Councilman Carlos Flores, who supports joining the lawsuit, has submitted a council proposal to put the issue on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. The proposal directs the city manager and city attorney to take legal action to join litigation brought by Maverick County and city of El Cenizo opposing Senate Bill 4. Council member Ann Zadeh, Gyna Bivens and Kelly Allen Gray also support the move.
In addition, the council is scheduled to consider a resolution that calls on the federal government to change current immigration laws and states that Fort Worth officials are willing to help state and federal officials on those policies.
Mayor Betsy Price and four other council members have said they don’t think joining the lawsuit will accomplish much, but they also don’t like SB4. Supporting the resolution would give them a way to express their dislike for the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1.
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“Our police officers are not immigration officials, their relationship in immigrant communities is challenged by a strong sense of fear and distrust,” the resolution states. It goes on to state, “everyone in Fort Worth deserves to live without fear. The City strongly supports legislative action at the federal level that reforms our broken immigration system.”
Two weeks ago, when the council discussed SB4, city staff was given no direction to do anything and the issue was left hanging. It’s unlikely the 5-4 divide will change.
We need to have this vote. We’re at a point where we need some action.
Carlos Flores, District 2 councilman
Flores said Friday, though, that implications of SB4 are too important for the council to ignore and that the body has an obligation to look at laws they feel are unfair or unjust. He said SB4 is an “unfunded mandate on law enforcement” and “amounts to a ‘show me your papers’ action.”
“We’ve had the discussions. We’ve had the briefings,” Flores said. “We need to have this vote. We’re at a point where we need some action.”
SB4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they stop or arrest. SB4 also requires police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation or face hefty fines, among other things.
Flores said he questions its constitutionality and the impact it will have on elected officials, like himself, who will face fines and sanctions if they speak out against the law.
“SB4 raises many constitutional issues,” Flores says in his proposal. “It violates the First Amendment rights of elected and appointed officials because it chills policy dissent. Litigation is necessary to protect the authority of the city to effectively manage and direct limited public safety resources of the city and to protect the public.”
Typically, council members hear and discuss issues in work session a week before they vote on them. Because Flores is asking that the issue be on the work session agenda and the regular meeting agenda the same week, it may not come to a vote this week.
He will have to ask the council to waive the rules of procedures, which requires a two-thirds majority, or votes from six of the nine members. If that doesn’t happen, the proposal will stay on the agenda and a vote taken Aug. 29, three days before the law takes effect.
At its Aug. 1 work session, the council heard from a city attorney and an assistant police chief about SB4 and how police plan to move forward when the law takes effect. The only thing that could prevent it is a ruling from a federal judge in San Antonio, who has held hearings in the case and is expected to rule.
Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have joined the lawsuit, leaving Fort Worth as the next largest city not to do so.
This past Wednesday, a federal judge in Austin dismissed a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was seeking a pre-emptive ruling on the law’s constitutionality. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in May.
At its Aug. 1 meeting, the council spent nearly three hours hearing from about 75 people urging them to join the lawsuit.
This is the first time this year a council member has proposed to put something on the agenda. In 2016, there were three council member-initiated proposals, but those covered fee waivers, according to the City Secretary’s office.
This article contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.