Thursday, May 25, 2017

ACLU: “Sanctuary Cities” Law Wrongheaded, Racist, Undemocratic and Un-Texan

by Nomad

On the issue of the new laws banning "sanctuary cities" in Texas, there's a showdown on the calendar between the state, civil rights groups and city governments.

ACLU and the Strike of Pecan Shellers

When 12,000 pecan shellers- mostly Hispanic women- went on strike in San Antonio in January 1938, one of the effects of that three-month labor action was the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

At that time, Texas was famous for its pecan production and accounted for nearly half of the nation's pecan production. The center of that production was- you guessed it- San Antonio. It might have been a big business but there wasn't much of a trickle down effect for the workers.
The pecan-shelling industry was one of the lowest-paid industries in the United States, with a typical wage ranging between two and three dollars a week. In addition that, the fine brown dust of the pecan shells was the suspected cause of the high rates of tuberculosis in San Antonio. 

When workers demanded better working conditions and something closer to a living wage, local law enforcement cracked down on the picketers despite their right to free speech and free assembly. 

The American Civil Liberties Union stepped to represent striking workers and has remained on the front lines of the fight for civil liberties in Texas ever since. As its mission statement notes:
Today, the ACLU of Texas continues our work to secure and protect civil rights for Texans throughout the state. In the courts and in the legislature, we fight for smart criminal justice reforms that treat everyone fairly. We fight for immigrants that have been unconstitutionally detained and discriminated against. We fight for racial equality, LGBT equality, students’ rights, and women’s rights.
Terri Burke has been the executive director of the ACLU of Texas since January of 2008. Under her direction, the organization has focused on issues like LGBT equality, criminal law reform, religious liberty, immigrants’ rights and reproductive rights.

During this time, the organization has opened new offices in Dallas, Brownsville, Austin, and El Paso, increased its staff from 8 to more than 30, and increased ACLU of Texas membership rolls fivefold.

Not the Texas We Know

Here's a recent article Burke wrote on Texas Senate Bill 4- known as the “sanctuary cities” bill- would impose steep fines, possibly even jail time, on Texas officials who fail to follow federal immigration laws. It would also allow law enforcement to question a suspect’s immigration status if detained.

This Is Not the Texas I Know

By Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas
A version of this piece originally ran at the ACLU of Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law yesterday. He’d declared it an “emergency item” before the legislative session began, and he could barely contain his giddiness when the bill passed its final legislative hurdle last week. “I’m getting my signing pen warmed up,” he tweeted.

When the governor of the Lone Star State positively gloats over such a wrongheaded, racist, undemocratic, un-Texan piece of legislation, a law that treats our immigrant neighbors as strangers to be shunned and feared, a law that breaks up families and endangers communities, I have to wonder what’s become of us.

Because this is not the Texas in which I grew up.

The Texas I know is free. But SB4 will turn ours into a “show me your papers” state, where any encounter with local law enforcement can turn into a citizenship interrogation. It will encourage local police without a single minute of immigration enforcement training on their resumes to profile skin tones and accents and languages. Detainers, now mandatory under state law, will clog our jails. The border checkpoint will be everywhere.

In the Texas I know, we look out for one another. But SB4 will drive witnesses and victims of crime into the shadows. Fearing deportation, survivors of domestic violence and rape will let their abusers walk free. Knowing this, sheriffs from Travis, Dallas, Harris, Bexar, and El Paso Counties, along with police chiefs from Dallas, Houston, Austin, Arlington, Fort Worth, and San Antonio begged the legislature not to pass this awful law. But the experience and informed opinions of Texas’s law enforcement leaders carried no weight with Gov. Abbott and his warmed-up pen.

The Texas I know believes in democracy. But SB4 threatens to remove from office duly elected officials should they choose to prioritize the safety and integrity of their communities over the governor’s warped and xenophobic agenda.

The Texas I know values its immigrants. The Texas I grew up in and still love is a place where rugged individualism is admired, where we have a statewide culture of entrepreneurship that is only strengthed by immigrants, as research shows.

The Texas I know loves diversity. Every nation on earth is represented here. Our people pray in churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. One-hundred-and-sixty-four different languages are spoken in homes across Texas. But SB4 will make all our immigrants, regardless of their residency status, feel like something other than — or less than — Texans. 
And that’s just wrong.

So to all the immigrants who fear the impact of this law on your lives, know that we stand with you. SB4 won’t take effect until September 1, but we won’t wait that long to fight it. Fight it we will, in the courts, at the ballot box, in the streets if we have to, and for as long as it takes, until Texas once again becomes the Texas I know and love.

Only a few days ago, civil rights groups and local government leaders open lawsuits against the state, alleging that SB 4 is "a discriminatory, unconstitutionally vague bill that encourages racial profiling and violates protections against unlawful search and seizure." The plaintiffs have also named Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw as defendants.

Efrén C. Olivares, the racial and economic justice director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, one of the groups that filed the legal action, said
 "All Texans, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to live free of harassment and discrimination. The 'show me your papers' law targets communities that have been attacked by both the state and federal governments already, further upending the lives of immigrant families throughout Texas."
According to Ms. Burke, it goes even deeper than that. The bill runs contrary to what the Lone Star state has always been about.

If you like more information about ACLU of Texas, or if you want to become an ACLU member like more than 50,000 Texans, and more than half a million Americans nationwide, click here.