Immigration protesters target Texas governor with sit-in

Pro-immigrant protesters staged a sit-in in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) office on Monday as he's slated to sign a sweeping new immigration bill approved by the state's legislature.

The sit-in comes amid nationwide protests commemorating May Day. Immigration activists are staging protests throughout the country, rebranding the labor rights holiday as a national call to action on immigration.

The Texas bill, known as S.B. 4, started as a proposal to ban sanctuary cities in the state, but amendments directing local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws in day-to-day engagements with the public were added. Sanctuary cities are local governments that refuse full cooperation with federal agents on immigration enforcement.

Abbott is expected to sign the bill. He tweeted support for it in March as it headed to the legislature.

"I do not expect that Governor Abbott will do the right thing and veto this bill," said Austin City Council Member Greg Casar in a statement Monday.


The police chiefs of Dallas and Houston, David Pughes and Art Acevedo, respectively, penned an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News Saturday opposing the bill on the grounds that it would alienate foreign residents — documented and undocumented — from local law enforcement agencies.

"Distrust and fear of contacting or assisting the police has already become evident among legal immigrants," they said.

"SB 4 will make our communities more dangerous, not safer, as we presume the legislature intended."

Under the bill, cities would have to comply with federal detainers — requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented prisoners until they can be picked up by federal agents.

Cities have complained that holding prisoners past the constitutionally mandated period could constitute a violation of the prisoners' civil rights, making local governments liable.

Under amended language that passed the Texas state House, local law enforcement can ask about immigration status for "detained" individuals, rather than those formally arrested or charged with a crime.

Activists have compared S.B. 4 to Arizona's S.B. 1070, passed in 2010, which required police to ask individuals' immigration status if there was "reasonable suspicion" that they were in the country illegally.

Some of the more controversial measures in the Arizona law were halted by courts before they came into effect. The state settled with civil rights organizations in 2015 on a set of guidelines for police to apply the law's remaining provisions.

Defenders of immigrants' rights have vowed to attack Texas's S.B. 4 on the same grounds as the Arizona law: by arguing immigration law is outside the scope of state lawmakers.

“Gov. Abbott’s signature is not the end of the fight against S.B. 4, it is only just the beginning,” said Amy Fischer, policy director with RAICES, an advocacy group for immigrants in Texas.