Cameron County will be seeking a leave of court in an effort to join El Cenizo in a lawsuit against SB4, Texas’ anti-sanctuary cities law.
The commissioner court’s decision was unanimous, save for Pct. 3 Commissioner David Garza, who was not in attendance at Tuesday’s Cameron County Commissioners Court meeting.
El Cenizo is suing the state of Texas, alleging that SB4 has failed to properly define a “sanctuary city” and that it violates both the Texas and U.S. Constitution. Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law in May, giving authorities the right to question a detained person about their immigration and citizenship status.
County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. brought the item before the court.
“This litigation would allow us an opportunity to have our local constituencies’ voices heard and address many of the moral, legal and ethical questions raised by the passing of SB4,” Treviño said. “With this in mind, I would encourage this county commissioner’s court to consider intervening and joining in the litigation … not only to protect our local constituents but also those in law enforcement.”
Pct. 2 County Commissioner Alex Dominguez recalled how many law enforcement agencies voiced their opposition to SB4 when it was being debated in the Texas legislature.
Their reasoning, he said, was because people would be unlikely to report crimes to law enforcement, which would lead to a number of people not protected by the system.
Treviño said the effect of that was already being felt.
“ We’ve already heard throughout the state that there have been numerous drops in the reporting of spousal-related crimes whether it’s spousal abuse or rape, and obviously that’s having an impact on our community,” Treviño said. “We don’t want people to be afraid to contact law enforcement when a situation occurs. That’s the absolute worst thing that could happen.”
Dominguez started the motion to seek a leave of court, and Pct. 1 County Commissioner Sofia Benavides seconded it.
Because litigation is ongoing, Cameron County will need permission to intervene. If the court does not give them permission, the commissioners will file an amicus brief in support of those fighting SB4, Treviño said.
People who would say that the county is protecting undocumented workers have got it wrong, Treviño said.
“ This country was founded upon the immigrant. Part of the problem has been the federal government kicking this issue down the road for decades. Our modern day economy has to have a labor pool. Our modern day economy is thriving because of individuals coming to this country from other countries who do the work nobody else wants to do,” Treviño said.
Treviño said he wishes the county had acted sooner.
Harris County also came to a decision on Tuesday. They will not be joining the lawsuit. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the decision should not be taken as an endorsement of SB4, the Associated Press reported.
The case of the City of El Cenizo, Texas, et al v. the State of Texas is being presided by Judge Orlando L. Garcia of the Texas Western District Court.
Treviño said he could hear the fear in the voices of those who testified before the legislature prior to SB4’s passing.
“ I saw some of the testimony. It was heartfelt. The fear in their voices and the concern if the law passed was very dramatic and real,” he said. “I am hopeful that this act will provide some support to our local citizens so that they can feel that there’s still somebody out there looking out for them and not to fear for their lives.”