An overflow crowd packed City Hall on Tuesday night to urge council members to join other Texas cities in the lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law.
A total of 40 people were signed up to speak and 80 others were present to show support. As speakers took their turn and then left council chamber, others waiting downstairs took their place.
“We are in fear what’s going to happen after Sept. 1,” said Arlington resident Maria Robles.
While speakers spoke passionately about the issue, the tone was civil before the council.
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Luis Castillo, a longtime leader in the Arlington League of United Latin American Citizens, said he was already feeling increased discrimination since SB4’s passage with some people asking if he was a U.S. citizen.
Castillo said he believes it will only get more problematic for Hispanic residents once SB4 starts being enforced.
“They’ll be probably asked to prove their citizenship,” Castillo said. “We know the negative impact it’s going to have.”
While the cost of joining the lawsuit has been raised previously, Castillo said he didn’t believe Arlington would be hit with large legal fees.
“It’s going to be marginal,” Castillo said. “It’s going to be minimal.”
Not everyone was in favor of joining the lawsuit. Brandon Stansberry was one of the few who asked the council not to intervene and he said he would vote against any council member who supported becoming part of the litigation.
Stansberry said he had been in a traffic accident with an undocumented immigrant and had not been able to get compensation for his damaged truck.
Before the meeting, the initial goal for most speakers had been to get the council to place SB4 on the agenda.
That was partially met when Mayor Jeff Williams said council members needed to discuss the issue further during an afternoon work session.
“I would like for us to have an opportunity to talk about it,” Williams said.
That news encouraged those who showed up to speak, said Robles, who helped organize the turnout.
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“It’s better than where we started but it’s not close to where we want to get,” Robles said.
Two weeks ago, City Council members appeared to have no appetite for discussing the issue.
“The many ramifications of that lawsuit is just not something I want to put our city or our citizens through myself,” Williams said at an Aug. 8 work session.
The lawsuit began in June when Maverick County and the city of El Cenizo filed a federal lawsuit in San Antonio questioning the constitutionality of SB4. Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas later became part of the suit.
In Fort Worth, tensions rose last week when nearly 90 speakers spoke to the council about joining the suit. In the end the Fort Worth council voted 5-4 against becoming part of the lawsuit.
SB4 takes effect on Sept. 1 and requires police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The legislation intends to do away with “sanctuary cities” and permits police to ask about the immigration status of anyone detained. Local police departments cannot impose rules that prevent officers from asking about immigration status.
Arlington’s population is about 27 percent Hispanic and 18 percent African-American, according to the U.S. census.