Two Valley cities challenge SB 4

LA JOYA — The small Western Hidalgo County town became the first in the Rio Grande Valley to join other major cities across the state in challenging state Senate Bill 4 which prohibits localities in the state from having policies that prevent local officials from sharing immigration-related information with the federal government.

“The city manager is hereby directed to prepare, pursue litigation against, and defend litigation from the state of Texas as appropriate in order to provide relief to the city of La Joya and the people of Texas from Senate Bill 4,” the resolution states. “Additionally, the city manager is directed to explore coordination with other municipalities and entities engaging in similar litigation.”

The commissioners unanimously approved the resolution by a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Victorio Salinas was not in attendance.

The adoption of the resolution by the city commissioners was met with cheers from members of La Union del Pueblo Entero, many of whom were among the audience, and came after each commissioner took turns criticizing the bill.

“In my opinion Senate Bill 4 reeks of discrimination, racism, and some undertones of hatred,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Mary Salinas. “Its ultimate goal is to separate families hurt children and bring grief to our Hispanic community and we cannot stand for that.”

Juanita Valdez-Cox, LUPE’s executive director, was also given the opportunity to speak and praised the city for their action.

“You’re setting an example for the other cities here,” she said in Spanish. “That here in the Valley — starting with the city of La Joya — we will not allow racism or discrimination.”

In pursuing legal action against the law, La Joya joins cities such as Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and El Paso. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio heard arguments in the case though he did not issue a decision.

A second hearing was held on Thursday, this time in Austin, where the state requested that U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks declare Austin as the appropriate venue for the case.

However, Sparks told attorneys for the state of Texas that he had a docket twice as busy as San Antonio-based Garcia and criticized the politics surrounding Texas’ new immigration-enforcement law.

He also cast doubt on whether any court would be able to declare a law constitutional when it hasn’t gone into effect yet.

“I don’t have the authority to forecast the future, and you have a statute that doesn’t come into effect until September,” he told David Hacker, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office.

Sparks didn’t give a timeline on when he’d rule on the motion to move the case to Austin.

Valdez-Cox said she didn’t know why other larger cities in the Valley did not speak out against the law. She said she spoke with McAllen Mayor Jim Darling who informed her that the city did not currently have any plans to challenge the law.

“We need to keep the pressure on cities like McAllen,” she said. “To support their communities, to not let a governor, like the one we have, to come to our communities and do to our people what they want and what we don’t deserve.”

Palmview city commissioners approved a similar measure Thursday evening, adopting City Attorney Rick Perez’s recommendation to support legal challenges to the law through an amicus filing.

He said he spoke with an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the groups representing the various cities and counties opposing the measure, who said they were not accepting new plaintiffs in the lawsuit but welcomed the city’s support with an amicus brief.

Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs are comments that are not a party to the lawsuit may submit to the court offering information that bears on the case.

“Something that’s litigated like this is going to end up in the appellate court one way or the other,” Perez said. “That’s how they’ve asked us to join the lawsuit, in that capability.”

Palmview commissioners approved the motion by a 4-0 vote. City Commissioner Joselito Hernandez was absent from the meeting while Mayor Gerardo “Jerry” Perez does not vote unless a tie-breaker is needed.

La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas, who proposed that the commission adopt the resolution, delivered an impassioned speech against the law, recounting instances of racism he encountered throughout his life.

“Now, 2017 and we’re going through the same thing,” he said in Spanish. “We need to unite and continue united, those of us that can, to see if one day, they’ll listen and leave us alone.”

The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.