San Marcos joins large cities to fight immigration bill

On May 7, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 4, which disallowed cities to designate themselves as sanctuary cities, and forced the local entities to cooperate with immigration authorities.

The controversial bill was revised to allow law enforcement officials to ask the immigration status of anyone who had been detained or arrested.

The forum’s main intent was to educate the public on how to protect immigrants and the limitations law enforcement has when asking for immigration status.

Since the signing, counties around Texas have retaliated and a lawsuit against the bill is currently in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The city of San Marcos is one of the smallest cities joining the fight against SB4, with the likes of its big brothers of Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.

On June 14, Hays County residents gathered in San Marcos for a public forum on SB4. Among the crowd were members of San Marcos City Council, the San Marcos Chief of Police and immigration activists.

Abbott has stated that SB4 does not allow racial profiling or improper detainment, but Hays County community members cry otherwise.

Illegal persons in the United States have rights protected under the constitution. This includes due process, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, fair treatment against discrimination and unlawful searches and seizures.

The forum’s main intent was to educate the public on how to protect immigrants and the limitations law enforcement has when asking for immigration status.

“We need to let people understand that they have rights when they are in contact with law enforcement,” said Priscila Martinez, Texas immigration coalition coordinator at the Workers Defense Action Fund. “Everyone in this country has the right to be represented in court regardless of citizenship status, and a lot of immigrants do not know that. You can plead the 5th and wait for legal support. It is your right.”

Since Senate Bill 4 is currently in limbo in the court process, there are limitations to what law enforcement and public officials can and cannot do.

Currently, law enforcement cannot prolong a stop on the suspicion of immigration status. However, local law enforcement is forced to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the entities’ investigations.

Local politicians cannot draft legislation against the workings of SB4, but they are allowed to vocalize their support or dissent of the law.

“ICE has asked people to sign consent forms and more often times than not, detainees sign their own deportation papers through pressure,” Martinez said. “But these people still have rights. Due process. Remember, local and county police cannot enforce immigration policy.”

The fear ICE has instilled in communities with both citizens and non-citizens was a factor in the number of people attending the public forum. Mary Gilmore, a resident of Wimberley, attended the meeting to give some insight.

In her community, illegal immigrants are scared to leave their homes. In one instance, an officer gave a traffic ticket to an illegal immigrant in Wimberley. This particular individual was scared to pay the ticket, despite that no form of identification is required to pay for small offenses.

“Our communities are in survival mode and people aren’t leaving their homes,” Gilmore said. “But we need to educate. These people are so scared to run into law enforcement they don’t even realize that simple citations will not get them in trouble.”

However, Chase Stapp, San Marcos chief of police, said remaining silent can have limitations. If a person truly does not answer any of an officer’s questions, that individual could be susceptible to an arrest.

Stapp advised residents to identify themselves and cooperate with law enforcement. If a citation is issued, pay the ticket at the court house. Failing to pay a citation could mean the issuing of a warrant for an arrest, which would have a snowball effect on the individual’s legal status. If ICE asks for information from the sheriff’s office, law enforcement must comply. 

The meeting, despite its fearful tone, was informative for the citizens of Hays County, clearing up questions on how ICE and law enforcement operate with migrants.

“It’s sad when you have to have a meeting with legal citizens who are scared of what’s been going on,” said Ed Mihalkanin, a member of the San Marcos City Council. “We need to educate our people and things need to change. People are scared.”

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