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Anti-Sanctuary City Bill Undoing San Antonio's Efforts to Build Trust With Immigrant Communities 

click to enlarge Catalina Adorno of the immigrant-rights group Cosecha addresses the crowd in front of City Hall. - SANFORD NOWLIN
  • Sanford Nowlin
  • Catalina Adorno of the immigrant-rights group Cosecha addresses the crowd in front of City Hall.
Tuesday’s federal appeals court ruling that allows Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities to go into effect stands to undo years of improved relations between the City of San Antonio and its immigrant communities, local officials warn.

San Antonio was one of the first cities to file a suit challenging Senate Bill 4, and until now, the San Antonio Police Department maintained a policy preventing officers from asking about immigration status. What's more, the progressive-dominated City Council has recently implemented immigrant-friendly measures such as new parade rules that allow organizers to seek permits without dealing directly with police.

"The 30 years it took to build trust between the City and our immigrant communities has cratered with the stroke of a pen," District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña said after an anti-SB4 protest Wednesday afternoon at City Hall. "I hear lawmakers say that if people want to immigrate, they should come out into the open and do it legally. But (SB4) does the opposite, it pushes those people back into the darkness."

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit  unanimously ruled Tuesday that SB4 can be implemented while legal challenges proceed against it. That reverses an August ruling by Orlando L. Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, who implemented a temporary block on enforcing the law.

SB4, passed by the Texas Legislature last spring, requires police chiefs and sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials. It also permits police to question the immigration status of anyone they arrest. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott fast-tracked legislation as a slap against sanctuary cities, which restrict their officers from cooperating in feds' immigration enforcement efforts.

While the appeals court leaves most of SB4 in effect, it did reject a provision in the law that stops local officials from "endorsing" policies aimed at curbing immigration enforcement. Legal scholars argued that the order is a First Amendment violation and the legal panel agreed.

Observers worry that SB4, coupled with the Trump Administration’s push for local law enforcement agencies to assist in federal immigration sweeps, will make undocumented people scared to seek out the police and other public resources.

Although SAPD declined to weigh in on the court ruling, Chief William McManus has blasted SB4 in the past, saying it would gin up mistrust in immigrant communities, making it harder for officers to prevent and solve crime.

Saldaña said he's seen the situation play out first-hand when he's ridden along with SAPD, including one instance where a woman battered by her husband refused to bring charges because she feared deportation.

"There are people here in San Antonio who are already afraid to report crimes, and SB4 only makes things worse," said Jessica Azua, immigrant coordinator for the Texas Organizing Project.

Yvonne Dilley, one of the founders of San Antonio's Pro-Immigrant Coalition, said that since SB4's passage, a growing number of undocumented people also forgo medical care, including vaccinations for their children, because of they're worried it makes them deportation targets.

"This isn't just a public safety issue," she said. "It's a public health issue."

The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are 1.5 million undocumented people in Texas, including 71,000 in Bexar County.

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