All day sit-in protest of 'sanctuary cities' bill ends in arrests


Highlights

About 18 arrested, including Austin City Council Member Greg Casar.

The bill to ban ‘sanctuary cities’ is nearing the legislative finish line.

Protestors said it will push immigrants into the shadows.

More than 20 protesters, including immigrants, students, a pair of elected officials and a Christian pastor, were arrested Monday evening after staging an all-day sit-in demonstration in the lobby of a state office building to call on Gov. Greg Abbott to veto the bill banning so-called sanctuary cities.

It’s an unlikely proposition, given that Abbott has listed signing Senate Bill 4, which would impose stiff penalties on cities and counties that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement, as one of his top priorities for lawmakers this year. But the demonstrators said they wanted to send the message that the fight over the bill, which is nearing the legislative finish line after being approved by the House last week, is far from over.

WATCH: Facebook Live video of ‘sanctuary cities’ bill protestors arrested

“I accept that sitting in means risking arrest, but what I’m not willing to accept is the harm that Gov. Abbott and others want to inflict on immigrant communities,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, one of the demonstrators at the State Insurance Building just southeast of the Capitol, said before his arrest.

The building houses one of the governor’s staff offices, but Abbott was not in the building during the demonstration. His office did not respond to a request for comment about the protest, which was organized by Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that opposes private prisons and advocates for immigrants.

Throughout the day, the protesters turned away state workers and Department of Public Safety troopers trying to enter the building, linking arms to block the doors and chanting, “This entrance is closed.” But it’s likely that they did little to disrupt state business. Workers were going in and out of another entrance to the building without impediment.

They chanted “SB 4 is hate”; toted signs such as one reading, “I am a sanctuary citizen”; ate pizza supplied by the Texas Democratic Party; and enjoyed live music, including a song by Austin artist Gina Chavez called “She Persisted” that was inspired by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

When the building closed at 5 p.m., state troopers told the protesters that they would receive citations if they did not leave. While most of the crowd dispersed, about two dozen remained. More than 20 of the participants were charged with class B misdemeanor trespassing and were released shortly thereafter, Casar said.

The Rev. Jim Rigby of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Austin, who was one of the first to be arrested, said earlier in the day that he had prepared for the moment by not bringing anything with him except an ID.

“This is not about the law,” he said of SB 4. “This is about sending terror across the community.”

Julie Ann Nitsch, an Austin Community College trustee, missed a meeting of the ACC board to participate in the protest because, she said, the bill will hurt students.

“Some immigrants won’t come to school because they are afraid,” she said.

The House approved SB 4, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and carried in the House by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, after an emotional 16-hour debate in which outnumbered Democrats made numerous attempts to derail the bill, only to see it altered in line with conservatives’ wishes after the House adopted amendments proposed by tea party-backed Republicans.

TEXAS POLITICS DELIVERED EVERY DAY: Sign up for our Texas Politics email

A select committee of House and Senate members will now negotiate differences between the two chambers’ versions before the Legislature sends it to Abbott’s desk.

Among other things, the bill bans police departments from keeping their officers from inquiring about the immigration status of anyone who is “detained,” a broad category that includes people in routine traffic stops.

Supporters of the bill have said it is necessary to keep communities secure and slow the flow of illegal immigration. Critics, including Austin’s interim police chief, have said the measure will do the opposite, damaging his officers’ relationship with vulnerable populations in Austin, resulting in a less safe community.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Exonerated man sues Williamson County for not disclosing evidence
Exonerated man sues Williamson County for not disclosing evidence

For more than two decades, Troy Mansfield was a registered sex offender for a crime he did not commit. And all that time, the prosecutors’ case file notes in the Williamson County district attorney’s office raised doubts about his guilt and pointed to evidence that could exonerate him. After he and his attorney discovered that evidence...
Crews search for potential 3rd victim after Lake Austin boat crash injures two
Crews search for potential 3rd victim after Lake Austin boat crash injures two

A two-boat crash on Lake Austin Tuesday night injured two men and caused first-responders to launch a search for a potential third victim, Austin fire officials said.  One of the men was critically injured, officials said. First-responders got the 911 call around 8 p.m. and went to the scene near Aqua Verde Drive, just west of Loop 360 (Capital...
Pressure rises to pull parkland as options for MLS stadium in Austin
Pressure rises to pull parkland as options for MLS stadium in Austin

Momentum is building to remove Precourt Sports Ventures’ preferred city parkland sites for a Major League Soccer stadium from consideration by the Austin City Council. Kathie Tovo, a critical swing vote on the council in the soccer saga, told the American-Statesman on Tuesday night that Butler Shores Metropolitan Park and Roy Guerrero Metropolitan...
Exonerated man sues Williamson County for not disclosing evidence
Exonerated man sues Williamson County for not disclosing evidence

For more than two decades, Troy Mansfield was a registered sex offender for a crime he did not commit. And all that time, the prosecutors’ case file notes in the Williamson County district attorney’s office raised doubts about his guilt and pointed to evidence that could exonerate him. After he and his attorney discovered that evidence...
Cornyn takes lead on effort to craft a Senate immigration bill
Cornyn takes lead on effort to craft a Senate immigration bill

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Tuesday he might want to borrow the Masai tribal “talking stick” that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, used to ensure civility during pivotal negotiations that resulted in a short-term deal that ended the government shutdown Monday. Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, is riding herd over efforts to fashion a much...
More Stories