Video from the House's Chief of Staff shows the scuffle that broke out on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives on May 29. Protesters gathered inside the Texas State Capitol in protest of SB4, legislation that could ban sanctuary cities. Twitter/Nar Dorrycott via Storyful
Video from the House's Chief of Staff shows the scuffle that broke out on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives on May 29. Protesters gathered inside the Texas State Capitol in protest of SB4, legislation that could ban sanctuary cities. Twitter/Nar Dorrycott via Storyful

Fort Worth

Fort Worth council divided over joining sanctuary city lawsuit

July 31, 2017 4:42 PM

FORT WORTH

As hundreds prepare to march Tuesday afternoon on City Hall, a third of City Council supports their effort to sway Fort Worth into joining a lawsuit opposing the state’s new sanctuary cities law.

Five of the council’s nine members say they do not want the city to join other Texas cities in a lawsuit to challenge Senate Bill 4, which gives local police officers more power to ask about a person’s immigration status, according to a poll conducted by the Star-Telegram.

But three council members — Gyna Bivens, Kelly Allen Gray and Ann Zadeh — say they would vote to join the lawsuit. District 2 Councilman Carlos Flores said he remains undecided and will wait until after a presentation by an assistant city attorney and an assistant police chief during a work session to decide. But, he said he is leaning toward the city joining the lawsuit.

Unless something is said during those presentations, the remaining council members, including Mayor Betsy Price, have said they don’t favor joining the lawsuit, citing economics and existing laws that already protect civil rights.

Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas to not participate in the lawsuit, which has already been joined by Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The new law will take effect Sept. 1 and gives law enforcement officers the authority to ask about a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions such as traffic stops. It also requires police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation.

Many argue that the law will result in racial profiling. And cities that don’t follow through on requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could face sanctions.

The lawsuit was filed in May by Maverick County and city of El Cenizo officials, and the League of United Latin Americans Citizens against Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. It has been a topic of growing concern since.

Speaking at a sheriff’s conference in Grapevine on Monday, Abbott said Senate Bill 4 was passed, in part, to cut down on gang activity and human trafficking issues that are “byproducts of a broken border. The purpose of it was to identify and remove from the streets dangerous criminals, not to detain hard-working families or innocent children.”

The City Council will not vote Tuesday, but it will likely give staff direction on what’s to be done next. If the consensus changes and the majority of the council members want to join the lawsuit, the city attorney’s office would be asked to put together a resolution and a vote possibly taken when the council next meets on Aug. 15.

Mindia Whittier, a spokeswoman for United Fort Worth, a grassroots group set up five weeks ago to sponsor the Day of Action march Tuesday, said the group wants the council to take a public vote.

“We don’t feel the vote and litigation is off the table,” just yet, Whittier said. “It needs to go to a public vote.”

In the past few days, each council member was asked by the Star-Telegram, “Do you think Fort Worth should join the other cities in the lawsuit trying to block SB 4?”

Here are their responses:

 

Mayor Betsy Price: “Since SB 4’s passage, we’ve heard a variety of different opinions on the subject. It’s our job to take all that into effect and consider the big picture of how this law will impact our city and its residents.” Recently, 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.”

District 2 Councilman Carlos Flores: “Until we get the briefing from staff, I can’t really say. I have no preconceived notions.”

District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd: “As of right now, I would not vote for joining the lawsuit. It would cost the taxpayers a significant amount of money. However, I want to make sure everyone in Fort Worth, whether they are documented or undocumented, feels comfortable calling for police protection when they need it.”

District 4 Councilman Cary Moon: “No, the City of Fort Worth does not need to be a Sanctuary City. I agree with the premise of the new law. The City of Fort Worth does not need to join a lawsuit, subjecting taxpayer dollars to ensure the judicial review of the new law. At the city level, we need to spend our time and resources on minimizing any negative impact that SB 4 may have on its residents.”

District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens: “I know people live in the shadows. I’m very concerned about how we treat people. People need to know city leaders care about them. When you have not lived among people different than you, you may not understand their concerns and, in this case, fear. I’m real concerned about it.”

District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan: “First and foremost, Fort Worth is not a sanctuary city, has never been a sanctuary city, nor will it ever be a sanctuary city. We will not discriminate. We will not racially profile and we will comply with the law of the land. I see no need to join the lawsuit.”

District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton: “It really is a sticky wicket. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to join. There’s nothing to be gained by joining. It could be detrimental in the long run. That being said, I have heartfelt empathy for those who have been unfairly treated.”

District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray: “I do. I think it’s one more issue in dealing with race relations and not just black and brown. There’s so many things happening in our country that our citizens need to know we are in support of these issues that directly affect them. It sends a negative message to our citizens that we’re neutral. They are our voters, they are our taxpayers, they are our voice. We need to be their voice.”

District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zadeh: “We should. I’m on record against SB 4. It’s not a good idea. It doesn’t solve all the problems. SB 4 is bad for families, bad for cities and bad for business.”

Staff writer Anna Tinsley contributed to this report. The article contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.

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