Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas to not join a lawsuit opposing the state’s new sanctuary cities law, but city leaders will weigh in on the controversial measure next month.
The state’s four largest cities, Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, have joined the suit against the law that lets law enforcement officers ask about a person’s immigration status during traffic stops and requires police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation.
The law was passed during the past legislative session and is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.
While Fort Worth city leaders have mostly been quiet on the law, the City Council in early August will be briefed on the emotional issue that, during the regular legislative session, prompted tears, pleas, hunger strikes — even a protest that stopped work in the House and led to lawmaker threats of gun violence.
“We are going to take it up probably in a work session ... to see where the council stands on this,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said Tuesday, noting that the police chief and city attorney will update the council on the law.
Price said she has heard from residents on both sides and wants to let the council determine whether to move forward on the issue.
“Fort Worth is a very diverse community,” she said. “I think the (sanctuary cities) law has some issues and challenges, but it’s still the law and Fort Worth has always followed the law. I just don’t know whether there’s anything to gain by joining the lawsuit.”
Price’s comments come as state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, works to try to repeal the sanctuary cities measure.
Romero said he realizes he may be facing a losing battle as he tries to shepherd House Bill 53 through the Legislature during the current special session, which began Tuesday.
“This is the only thing I can do right now,” Romero said. “I”m trying to fight back, chip away at it and hope that the hate ends. I cannot stand and look myself in the mirror every day and say ‘You’ve done everything you can’ if I didn’t do this.”
He said Fort Worth and other Texas cities have much to gain by opposing this new state law.
“The cities of Texas need to take their cities back, stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” he said. “You have people who are absolutely terrified in our city limits right now, knowing they can’t just walk around.”
Memorial Day scuffle
“It simply makes sense,” Abbott said. “Citizens expect law enforcement officers to enforce the law, and citizens deserve lawbreakers to face legal consequences.”
But the legislation was so controversial that protesters turned out en masse even on the last day of the regular session, loudly chanting in the rotunda and crowding into the House gallery. At one point, they began chanting so loud in the House that work on the floor had to temporarily stop.
It simply makes sense. Citizens expect law enforcement officers to enforce the law, and citizens deserve lawbreakers to face legal consequences.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
As protesters were escorted out of the gallery, there was a scuffle between some lawmakers after state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said he called federal immigration officers on some of the protesters who carried signs indicating they were illegally in the country.
There were some gun threats, but Texas Department of Public Safety officials said they weren’t investigating the issue.
Romero said people have thanked him and said they are praying for him, as he tries to repeal SB 4.
“People say they know it’s a long shot and they know Gov. Abbott won’t take it seriously,” he said. “It is not an item that’s on the call, therefore the reality is unless he adds it to the call, it’s not likely to ever see the floor.
“But in my case, it’s simple: Why did everyone show up here on May 29 after the bill had already passed? They felt the Legislature had made a mistake. They felt their voices had not been heard,” Romero said. “To see those people fight, even when you could argue the fight is already over, made me want to continue the fight.”
Already seeing impact
Romero said the effects of SB 4 are already being felt, pointing to the recent death of Fort Worth taco vendor Jose Ontiveros, who was killed while trying to stop a robbery outside a nightclub on Mansfield Highway on July 1.
Police have said one suspect in the case indicated they targeted Hispanics “because they’ve got money and they don’t call the police.”
“Our greatest fear was that SB 4 was going to be used with discriminatory intent with people who call ICE,” Romero said. “We fear people will be victims of crime in greater numbers than before. It’s happening. We are already seeing it.”
Fort Worth is a caring, compassionate, diverse community. (Residents) need to be comfortable with our police department.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price
Price said she doesn’t want people to feel scared in Fort Worth.
“Fort Worth is a caring, compassionate, diverse community,” she said. And residents “need to be comfortable with our police department.”
No matter what laws are created, the city’s police “procedures have not changed,” Price said. “They are here to serve and protect.”
In June, the newly formed United Fort Worth grassroots group called on the Fort Worth City Council to join the lawsuit against the sanctuary cities law.
Group members worry the new law could cause local immigrants to live in fear of bullying, crime and racial profiling.
And the group, which has announced that free legal services have been offered to represent the city in the SB 4 lawsuit, plans to rally again outside City Hall about this issue on Aug. 1.
Some local residents say they are encouraged that the Fort Worth City Council will be taking up the issue.
“I think they should listen to it,” said Kris Savage, part of the leadership team for Indivisible FWTX, another activists group. “It affects everybody.”
She said she fears many people don’t even know the law has passed and that people — whether they are legal or not — may soon be stopped and asked for their paperwork.
“That creates this climate of distrust,” Savage said. “I believe people will move. ... It’s dangerous to live in a state where you never know whether you will be stopped or not.
“I value that the City Council is going to have a work session and look into it,” she said. “That sounds like it’s a step forward.”