EL PASO, Texas - El Paso County has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas to block the implementation of Senate Bill 4, the so-called "anti-sanctuary cities" bill.
Republicans want local police to help federal immigration agents crack down on criminal suspects in the U.S. illegally. The new law threatens sheriffs and police chiefs with jail time if they don't work with federal authorities.
The bill also allows police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they detain, a situation that can range from arrest for a crime to being stopped for a traffic violation. It also requires local officials to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation.
County leaders held a press conference at the County Courthouse to discuss the legal challenge against a law they called unconstitutional.
"SB4 is a discriminatory law that impedes public safety instead of enhancing it," said Jose Garza, counsel for the County and its sheriff's office. "This law is just another version of a continuing attack on the immigrant community from Austin. (SB4) is even more egregious because it has the potential effect of undermining public safety."
County officials announced last week that San Antonio-based firm Garza, Golando & Moran would represent them in the lawsuit. Monday, the Texas Civil Rights project announced it was joining the County and the sheriff's office in the lawsuit.
"(SB4) Was adopted with a discriminatory effect, takes power out of the hands of local officials and seeks to federalize local law enforcement agencies," Garza said.
County Judge Veronica Escobar estimates the lawsuit will cost about $150,000. The lawsuit was filed in the San Antonio Division of the Western District of Texas, Garza said.
Senate Bill 4, set to go into effect September 1, 2017, was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month.
"We believe this bill does not make our community any safer. It places more burden on our deputies," said Robert Flores, commander with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
"Our relationship with our community has been a big part of our organization for many years," Flores said, "Our deputies want to serve the community. That's what they signed up for. But this is an antiquated philosophy, using local officers to enforce federal law."
In an op-ed published by the San Antonio Express News, Gov. Greg Abbott clarified what he perceives as " clarifies misinformation being spread by critics of the bill."
SB4, according to Abbott, does not change how most law enforcement agencies in Texas already work, specifically prohibits racial profiling and discrimination and provides new protections to crime victims and witnesses.
"You will not be asked about your immigration status while walking down the street," Gov. Abbott states, "Under SB 4, law enforcement officers who profile or discriminate will be subject to serious consequences. Both Texas and federal law strictly forbid racial profiling."