In Austin on Memorial Day, the summer of resistance got underway when more than 1000 opponents of a new racist, anti-immigrant law took over the state Capitol .
Earlier in the month, the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law SB 4, which punishes sanctuary cities–those cities whose officials refuse to cooperate with the Trump administration’s intimidation and harassment of immigrant workers.
SB 4 goes into effect on September 1, and its opponents vow to spend the summer building resistance to the new law.
That resistance began enthusiastically on the last day of the state Legislature’s regular session when a coalition of groups including the Workers Defense Project, Education Austin, the local teachers union, Immigrants United, United We Dream, and University Leadership Initiative organized the anti-SB 4 demonstration at the Capitol.
In the morning, demonstrators gathered inside the Capitol around the building’s rotunda and began chanting resistance slogans such as “Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos,” (We’re here and we aren’t leaving).
Others went upstairs, occupied the three balconies that overlook the rotunda, and joined the chanting.
There were a number of union workers among the demonstrators including members of SEIU Justice for Janitors, UNITE HERE Local 23, CWA, and Education Austin. The Local labor council also supported the action.
While protesters gathered around the rotunda, another group of protesters went into the gallery overlooking the floor where the House of Representatives meet.
They filled the gallery and sat quietly as lawmakers wrapped up business on the final day of the regular legislative session.
But the quiet didn’t last.
When an anti-SB 4 banner was hung from the gallery railing, people in the gallery erupted in cheers and chants.
“We’re here to stay” and “See you in court,” they chanted as lawmakers looked up to see what was happening.
Capitol police removed the people with the banner, but as they did, more banners were unfurled, and the chants grew louder.
Finally, more police were called in and everyone was removed from the gallery.
As they marched out of the gallery, demonstrators raised their fists and were greeted noisily by supporters chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, SB 4 has got to go.”
After more chanting, demonstrators marched outside and gathered for a rally.
After the rally, they held a day of teach-ins and strategy planning for how to resist the implementation of SB 4.
SB 4 was passed and signed into law after Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick decided to retaliate against cities like Austin that chose to support its immigrant residents rather to cooperate with the US Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s aggressive round up of immigrants.
SB 4 allows the state to seek financial and other penalties against cities and local officials who don’t fully cooperate with ICE.
It also allows local police to inquire about a person’s citizenship or residency status after detaining that person even after a minor traffic stop or domestic violence call.
Opponents of the bill say that doing so will lead to racial profiling that will subject people of color to harassment and violation of their constitutional rights.
Beyond that, SB 4 will make our communities less safe, which is why police chiefs from Texas’ largest cities oppose the bill.
In an opinion piece appearing in the Dallas Morning News, Art Acevedo, Houston’s police chief, and David Pughes, Dallas’ interim police chief, said that SB 4 will drive a wedge between the police and immigrants making it more difficult for police officers to prevent crime and enforce the law.
SB 4 “will lead to distrust of police and less cooperation from members of the community. And it will foster the belief that people cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation,” write Acevedo and Pughes.
SB 4’s threat to public safety, the dangerous precedent it sets for punishing local officials that stand up for their residents, and the law’s mean-spirited nature led Austin’s city council to vote on May 16 to file suit to prevent implementation of SB 4.
The next day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit to stop Austin’s suit.
After Paxton’s action, the cities of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso, and the county of El Paso pledged to support Austin in its attempt to block SB 4.
Demonstrators at the Memorial Day No SB 4 action were glad that cities throughout Texas had joined the fight against SB 4, but they weren’t waiting for a court decision.
They promised, instead, a summer of actions like the one at the Capitol because as one sign held up from a Capitol window for people outside to see said, “No human being is illegal.”