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Democrats want more Texas communities to join suit against immigration law

Several local governments have signed on to a lawsuit that seeks to stop Senate Bill 4, the state's new immigration law, from going into effect. But some opponents of the bill want more communities to join in.

Protesters opposed to Senate Bill 4, known as the "sanctuary cities" law, turn out in force for the last day of the legislative session on May 29, 2017.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information that the Trump administration is reportedly expected to intervene in the lawsuit over the state's new immigration law.

As several Texas communities have signed on to a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s new immigration enforcement law, some are putting pressure on their local leaders to hurry up and join in.

Lawmakers from Houston and Laredo have urged their respective city councils to join a lawsuit originally filed May 8 by officials in Maverick County and the City of El Cenizo, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The lawsuit alleges that law, Senate Bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including guarantees of free speech and equal protection.

Since the initial complaint was filed, El Paso County and the cities of San Antonio, Austin and Dallas have also signed on to the suit, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Texas Organizing Project and the Workers Defense Project.

The urging comes at the same time the Trump administration has reportedly expressed interest in getting involved in the litigation. An attorney with LULAC said on Monday that a notice sent to the parties involved in the case indicates the U.S. Justice Department will back the state of Texas, the Associated Press reported

Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law on May 7. It is scheduled to take effect Sept. 1. Abbott and attorney general Ken Paxton are named as the defendants. 

Known as the "sanctuary cities" measure, the bill would allow local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain or arrest. It also punishes department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents by turning over immigrants subject to possible deportation. 

Abbott and other supporters of the measure say it's needed to make Texas safer and crack down on illegal immigration. Opponents argue the bill's vague language will lead to racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.

In Houston, the state's largest city, the city council is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on whether to join the suit. In a letter sent to the city council last week, Democratic lawmakers from the Harris County delegation urged council members to support joining the litigation.

“SB4 has several flawed provisions that unlawfully target immigrant communities, expose Texans to unlawful violations of due process and erode essential trust between police and the public,” the lawmakers wrote. The letter was signed by state Reps. Alma Allen, Carol Alvarado, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Jarvis Johnson, Mary Ann Perez, Ron Reynolds, Shawn Thierry, Senfronia Thompson, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle, and Gene Wu

Walle said some of the lawmakers plan to testify before the council Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's vote.

Also on Monday, state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, publicly urged members of that city council as well as the Webb County Commissioners Court to sign on to the litigation.

“Laredo and Webb County have always been leaders in showing this state and the rest of the country that all Texans should be treated equally and not be discriminated against,” he wrote.  

Alongside those appeals from Democratic lawmakers, members from the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights held a rally outside of El Paso City Hall to urge elected officials there to pass a resolution against the "racist and anti-constitutional law" and also join the county in the lawsuit.  

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has scheduled a June 26 hearing on the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to stop SB 4 from going into effect as the court case plays out. On Monday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told reporters the city has also filed its own motion for a preliminary injunction.

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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