The decision by San Antonio City Council to join a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund challenging the new state law banning 'Sanctuary Cities' has exposed a huge divide on the Council, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Several Council members, like Rey Saldana, Shirley Gonzales, and Rebecca Viagran argued strongly that a lawsuit is necessary to block the law, which threatens police chiefs and sheriffs with jail time for not cooperating with immigration officials, and allows police officers to ask people they 'detain' about their immigration status.
"SB 4 does nothing to protect San Antonio residents and, in fact, will make us less safe," Viagran said. "This bill targets the most vulnerable individuals in our population and creates a state of fear where people won’t go to the police for help when they witness, or worse, are the victim of a crime. Law enforcement officials from across the state have strongly voiced their opposition to this bill because it will make ALL communities less safe."
Saldana also cited Police Chief William McManus' opposition to the law for pushing for the city to file the lawsuit.
"Our job is not only keeping our community safe but also follwing our experts. He is our expert," Saldana said.
Chief McManus made numerous trips to Austin this legislative session, where he joined other big city police chiefs in opposition to the bill. They feel the law will handcuff his ability to manage the police department in the best way to fight crime in the city.
"We simply do not have the capacity to handle immigration laws, as well as enforcing the terms of the penal code," McManus previously told 1200 WOAI news.
But Joe Krier, who is the only attorney on City Council, blasted Council members for making the decision in secret.
"We did not post it, give citizens an opportunity to be heard and vote in public session," Krier said. "The City should not be making decisions like this without public input and a public vote by every member of Council."
Krier also said from a legal perspective, the lawsuit is not the right course of action at this time.
"The law doesn't become effective until September, so we don't have any people who could possibly have been directly offended by the law," Krier said.
Councilman Mike Gallagher also said the lawsuit may be 'premature.' He pointed out that 'never in our recent history' has the City of San Antonio sued the State of Texas.'
"We must consider the potential unintended consequences of prematurely taking this action, including the possible withholding of state grant funding for public safety," Gallagher said.
Mayor Taylor also condemned the action.
"In this case, the prudent course would be to wait until a decision has been made on whether a special session will be called. Additionally, I believe that any decision to join this lawsuit should be made in coordination with other major Texas cities, which is why I have consulted with Mayors Adler (Austin), Turner (Houston) and Rawlings (Dallas)," she said in a statement. "We should be certain that litigation is the measure of last resort and that the city is bearing its fair share of any legal burden."