Holding signs that said, “No hate in my Texas” and “Diversity not division,” protesters on Tuesday urged city leaders to join a lawsuit seeking to have Texas’ so-called sanctuary cities law declared unconstitutional.
Members of the newly formed United Fort Worth want the Fort Worth City Council to join legal challenges to Senate Bill 4 — a measure that when it takes effect Sept. 1 will allow police to question people’s immigration status during traffic stops.
The grassroots group, formed three weeks ago by four young adults, held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall to highlight how they believe SB 4 will impact immigrants and other sectors of the Fort Worth community.
United Fort Worth includes advocacy groups such as Faith in Fort Worth, Indivisible FWTX, the North Texas Dream Team, Casa del Inmigrante and others to give voices to those who have not been heard, said Daniel Garcia Rodriguez, 22, one of United Fort Worth’s founders.
The city is approaching one million residents but has not focused on the social issues that confront it, Rodriguez contended.
“We have a lot of new people here,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, this coalition will help us share ideas with the city and together we can find a way to implement positive change.”
That includes persuading the city to join a lawsuit originally filed by the South Texas city of El Cenizo. San Antonio, Dallas and Austin are also challenging the constitutionality of SB 4.
“There are several large cities and small cities that have joined the lawsuit,” said Anita Quinones, an activist with Indivisible FWTX. “In the meantime, Fort Worth has been pretty quiet. There is opposition to Senate Bill 4 ... in the community.”
SB 4, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last month, also requires police chiefs and sheriffs, under threat of penalty, to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation.
“This is an unfunded mandate,” Quinones said. “It is actually turning police officers into immigration officers. This is a federal issue.”
Speakers at the press conference said SB 4 would cause members of the immigrant community in Fort Worth to live in fear and endure crime rather than call the police, would lead to racial profiling and would subject children in immigrant communities to bullying.
State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, said he did not want to call out City Council members so he wrote to them asking them to show courage and join the lawsuit.
“Fort Worth, don’t turn your back on your neighbor,” Romero said. “Don’t turn your back on your own residents.”
United Fort Worth members acknowledge they have an uphill battle because Fort Worth sits in one of the reddest counties in Texas.
In February, Mayor Betsy Price and the Police Department stressed that Fort Worth is not a sanctuary city after police officer Daniel Segura’s attempt to soothe immigrant fears on social media went viral. Segura’s video on Facebook had more than 1.7 million views as of Tuesday.
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“Fort Worth follows federal immigration laws and is unequivocally not a sanctuary city,” Price said in a statement at the time.
Max Krochmal, a history professor at Texas Christian University, said the new law promotes hate and denies due process to the accused. Krochmal said that Fort Worth now has a higher percentage of minority residents than white residents and that joint activism is the way to enact a more progressive agenda.
“Fort Worth was not always conservative,” Krochmal said. “We need to build multiracial, multiethnic coalitions. It’s how we overcame the conservative minority that has dominated our state in the past.”
United Fort Worth member Mindia Whittier said their message to city leaders is: “You should care about SB 4.”
The news conference was held Tuesday to garner attention before the City Council takes a summer break, organizers said. They are also planning “A Day of Action” on Aug. 1 when the council returns to work. Their campaign will include meeting with city leaders one-on-one to highlight how SB 4 can affect the whole city.
“We want them to get SB 4 on their agenda,” Whittier said. “Everybody has a stake in the game.”
The North Side High School Mariachi Band serenades Sal Espino at his last council meeting Tuesday night.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.