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Houston votes to join other Texas cities in lawsuit over new immigration law, Senate Bill 4

The Houston City Council voted 10–6 Wednesday morning to join a growing lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, an immigration enforcement law that allows peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain.

The floor of the state Capitol is packed with protesters opposed to Senate Bill 4, the "sanctuary cities" bill, on May 29, 2017. 

The largest city in Texas will join San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and other local governments in a lawsuit against the state’s new immigration enforcement law.

The Houston City Council voted 10-6 Wednesday morning to join the lawsuit, which was filed last month against Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. The suit takes aim at Senate Bill 4, an anti-“sanctuary cities” measure set to take effect Sept. 1 that allows local law enforcement to question the immigration status of people they legally detain or arrest and punishes officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents by turning over immigrants.

With Houston signing on, the four largest cities in Texas will all be party to the lawsuit against the state.

The lawsuit was first filed May 8, just a day after Abbott signed the bill into law, by officials in Maverick County, the city of El Cenizo and the League of United Latin American Citizens. In the weeks since, cities and organizations across the state have signed on.

The lawsuit argues that SB 4 violates the Constitution by threatening guarantees of free speech and equal protection. Democratic lawmakers across the state continue to urge more communities to join in the effort.

 The law is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has scheduled a June 26 hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction that would block SB 4 from being implemented as the case winds its way through the legal system.

Democrats in the Texas House representing Harris County wrote to the Houston City Council last week, urging them to join 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.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday that “the best way to assess the legitimacy of SB 4 is in a court of law.”

“We are a diverse city, we are a very welcoming city,” Turner said. “We have every right to protect Houstonians. Houstonians are expecting us to stand up and protect their interest.”

Council members Brenda Stardig, Dave Martin, Steve Le, Greg Travis, Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh voted against Houston joining the suit. 

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