- Sarah Flood-Baumann
One question percolating in the federal courts right now is whether Texas lawmakers are deliberately passing racist laws — like, say, a voter ID law that disproportionately targets black and brown voters or gerrymandered congressional and state legislative maps that dilute the state's growing Hispanic vote.
That question of so-called "legislative intent" is now at the heart of another federal court battle, this time over Texas' new immigration law, Senate Bill 4, which will extend the reach of federal immigration enforcement to local police departments. The lawsuit the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed in federal court late Thursday on behalf of the City of San Antonio accuses the lawmakers who passed SB 4 of deliberately discriminating against people "on the basis of their race and national origin."
The lawsuit (you can read the full filing here) argues that SB 4, which will allow local cops to ask about immigration status even in routine police encounters (like traffic stops), was clearly "enacted with the purpose of discriminating against Latinos and against immigrants." As part of their evidence, they point to the final day of the 85th legislative session, when GOP state Rep. Matt Rinaldi reported protestors who'd gathered in the Texas Capitol to immigration officials.
"They need to deport all these illegals," Rinaldi reportedly told colleagues, sparking what almost became a fist fight on the Texas House floor. When one Democratic lawmaker reminded Rinaldi his own Italian ancestors were immigrants, too, his response: "The difference between those people and my family is that my family loves America."
"He (Rinaldi) said the protestors hated America, so 'fuck them,'" was how Rep. Diego Bernal, a San Antonio Democrat, recalled the exchange.
Rinaldi's actions, along with other statements from his GOP colleagues that characterized immigrants as dangerous criminals and a threat to public safety throughout the debate over SB 4, could come back to haunt the state as it defends the law in court, says MALDEF regional counsel Marisa Bono. "It’s that type of racist rhetoric that surrounded the debate and ultimately passage of SB 4,” she said in a conference call with reporters Thursday announcing the latest legal challenge to the law.
Thursday's lawsuit was also joined by the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education because SB 4 demands that even college and university campus police departments allow officers to provide "enforcement assistance" to federal immigration authorities. MALDEF also filed on behalf of La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, the Worker’s Defense Project and San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña, who has been perhaps the loudest voice of local opposition to the law. Austin city officials, who voted last month to sue the state over SB 4, say they plan to join the San Antonio lawsuit.
While San Antonio City Council members approved the lawsuit in a closed session last week, clearly not everyone's happy about the decision. In a statement Thursday, Mayor Ivy Taylor called the legal challenge "premature" and said she opposed filing a lawsuit on the city's behalf.
You can read a summary of MALDEF's many other legal arguments against SB 4 here.