El Paso County votes to start process to sue Texas over Sanctuary Cities Law

Groups protesting the Sanctuary Cities Law Monday said Commissioner Andrew Haggerty vote means he's defending something being labeled as the most racist, anti-immigrant legislation in the State of Texas.

El Paso County has voted to start the process of suing the State of Texas over the Sanctuary Cities Law. El Paso County commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to hire a law firm to file the suit. The one commissioner who voted against filing suit was Commissioner Andrew Haggerty.

The law allows law enforcement officers to ask anyone about their immigration status during something as normal as a traffic stop.

"Very clearly it's a bad bill. I don't think it's a good bill. That being said, is it worth me reallocating county tax dollars that could go to roads or go to something else to fight a bad definition of a bill? Because it doesn't affect the residents of El Paso County,” Haggerty said. “The conversation goes, 'Well it could in the future, someday do something, if we speculate.' Well I could possibly get hit by a bus tomorrow. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop crossing the road."

Haggerty said there are a lot of misconceptions in the community about the law.

“I think there’s a lot of fear-mongering going on by different organizations trying to say that this now gives police the authority and ability to arrest anyone and everyone for being of-color, or to stop and search people anytime,” Haggerty said. “All SB4 does is says we have to work with the officials that we’re already working with. We’re already doing it! I think by creating this fear, we’re doing what we say we don’t want to do, by creating a society who’s afraid to call the police. And that’s not good for anybody.”

Haggerty said before the law even came up, the county was already following the requirements.

“I don’t think it’s a good bill, but I think there’s about 5,000 bills in Texas right now that are bad bills," Haggerty said. “We have to live with it the way it is…. but to fight a bill that doesn’t affect El Paso other than the misconceptions we’re creating on that bill… I don’t think that’s the best use of our resources.”

He thinks the lawsuit would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“We get sued probably five times a day anyway. That’s just a truth of being who we are. Just because we have a chance of getting sued, doesn’t mean we should use that money and start suing. Again, it’s not a good bill. I don’t think it’s a good bill. But I don’t think it’s something we’re going to fix by suing over it,” Haggerty said.

Reporters asked Haggerty about whether it’s right for police to be able to ask for immigration status that easily. Haggerty answered, “There’s nothing that says there’s not officers possibly doing that now! We’ve got hundreds of law enforcement officers out there on the streets every day. What they are or are not doing, I can’t say on every single case. It’s not something we should be doing, it’s not something our sheriff is asking for, it’s not something our police chief is asking for, it’s not something our constables are asking for. To say, well it could possibly allow one police officer to go rogue… they can go rogue anyways.”

Supporters of the lawsuit disagree with Haggerty. Fernando Garcia is the founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR).

“That is unfortunate. That is the way democracy is. I think he might have his reasons, but I don’t know what reasons you can have to defend something that is being labeled as the most racist, anti-immigrant legislation in the state of Texas,” Garcia said. “I don’t know what are the reasons for that. I don’t know what are the reasons to condone for your local police departments and your local officers to ask [for] immigration papers.”

Garcia said the vote Monday is a win for people living in the Borderland.

“We are happy! This is a great day for El Paso County, for El Paso communities. I think historically that El Paso has been leading the charge against racism and discrimination. So today it’s a great day, the fact that the county decided to start the proceedings to file a lawsuit against SB4. That’s exactly what the community's wanting in El Paso. We just turned in a petition of more than 900 signatures commending them for taking this step.”

CBS4 spoke with 10 people on Monday trying to get some opinions, and not a single person even knew what the Sanctuary Cities Law is.

“I think there’s going to be tremendous amounts of lawsuits throughout the state, with a lot of community pressure to actually stop it at the courts, and stop it in the streets. We are very positive that we are going to do the fight,” Garcia said. “I don’t have any doubt that other counties will follow. I think El Paso has actually set up examples. I know some counties that are already considering filing legislation against SB4. We should be very proud that El Paso is taking this step in defending diversity, inclusion and rights of all of the people in the communities.”

The law takes effect Sept. 1.

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