Fort Worth will not join a lawsuit opposing a controversial new Texas law targeting so-called "sanctuary cities." City Council voted five to four after five hours of debate and testimony Tuesday night.
For weeks, activists opposed to Senate Bill 4 have been calling for a vote on joining the lawsuit. They got their wish, but not the result they wanted.
SB 4 makes it a crime for local officials not to cooperate with federal immigration officials and allows law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest. Opponents of SB 4 say the law is unconstitutional and will lead to racial profiling.
“SB 4 is neither just nor fair, and we must challenge it,” councilman Carlos Flores told his fellow council members.
Flores, the newly elected councilman representing Fort Worth's heavily Hispanic District 2, introduced the resolution to join Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso in a lawsuit opposing SB 4. The lawsuit was filed by the tiny border town of El Cenizo immediately after SB 4 was signed into law.
About 70 people begged, cajoled and urged city leaders to join a legal challenge to the law. They pleaded with members to stand with the city’s immigrants, threatened electoral challenges for those who didn’t, and made technical arguments about the law’s deficiencies. Anyra Cano told council members she sees fear in her community since the law's passage, and described a boy from her church.
“He went with us on a mission trip to Kansas this summer, and he was afraid that cops might stop us because they might take him. We have kids in our Sunday schools asking for prayer so their parents will not be stopped and deported,” Cano said.
In a briefing two weeks ago, Fort Worth police officials said they expect the law will make immigrant communities afraid to report crimes. At that meeting, the five-four split on council favoring sitting out the lawsuit became clear. Nonetheless, hundreds of anti-SB 4 activists demonstrated outside City Hall and dozens of people spent hours speaking on the issue, an overwhelming majority in favor of joining the lawsuit.
At last night’s meeting, just nine people testified against joining the legal challenge to SB 4, saying the law’s necessary to ensure the rule of law. Mayor Betsy Price said she has problems with the law, but voted not to join the lawsuit.
“I took an oath to uphold the law, and SB4, whether Fort Worth is in or out of the lawsuit, is about to become law. And if the courts overturn it, we would be glad to see that happen. But for the best interest of the city, I will be glad to see that happen,” Price said, adding that immigration is a federal issue and should be handled by federal authorities.
Price called Fort Worth a “compassionate city” and bristling at assertions that voting against joining the lawsuit was tantamount to supporting racist policies.
After the vote, some anti-SB 4 activists tried to shut down the council meeting and were escorted out by police while the council took a short break.
Fort Worth stands out as the only major city in Texas that has not joined the lawsuit against SB 4. The law goes into effect on September 1.