Last week, the County of El Paso voted to sue the State of Texas over SB4, the so-called sanctuary cities legislation, recently enacted by Texas. The Texas bill makes it a Class A misdemeanor if any local law enforcement agent does not cooperate with federal agents in detaining undocumented immigrants for federal prosecution. The Texas law also authorizes all law enforcement officers to ask for immigration status during their interactions with individuals, whether as victims or as suspects. Shortly after Greg Abbot, the Texas governor, signed the legislation into law, the City of Austin filed suit against Texas arguing provisions of the legislation are unconstitutional. On a vote of 4 to 1, the County Commissioners of El Paso also voted to file suit last week. Except that the El Paso lawsuit is not about protecting undocumented immigrants but rather about money. Here is why.
Austin is well known as a sanctuary city. It has been labelled as such by the federal government and Greg Abbot. Austin’s lawsuit against Texas is to protect undocumented immigrants from abusive enforcement. This is not true for the El Paso County lawsuit. El Paso has continuously argued that it is not a sanctuary city and much to the surprise of the nation and the rest of Texas, El Paso is recognized as not being a sanctuary city.
So, why the lawsuit?
Did Veronica Escobar finally convince her fellow elected officials to make El Paso a haven for undocumented immigrants?
The only commissioner to vote against El Paso County suing the state over SB4 was Andrew Haggerty. Haggerty argued that suing the County over the legislation is money badly spent because the legislation does not affect El Paso. As El Paso is not recognized as a sanctuary city, Haggerty makes a valid argument.
So, why the lawsuit?
The public notion is that the lawsuit is for protecting residents against racism and discrimination within the predominantly Hispanic community of El Paso. The argument being that the law, that goes into effect on September 1, gives local law enforcement officers unprecedented authority to use the law to discriminate against their fellow residents in El Paso. This notion ignores the fact that local law enforcement is predominantly Hispanic, mirroring the community they serve.
Veronica Escobar told KVIA that she is concerned about the possibility of spending money in the future to defend against a civil rights lawsuit, should a County employee be sued for enforcing the Texas law. Escobar argues that it is prudent to spend $150,000 in legal fees now, rather than wait to be sued in the future.
It all sounds very reasonable until you look at the most basic fact.
Escobar argues that she wants to save the taxpayers from unnecessary legal fees in the future due to untrained local law enforcement officials complying with SB4.
However, this ignores the fact that the County, like most government entities, enjoys the protection of sovereign immunity. It is difficult to sue a government entity for complying with the law. Escobar and cohorts are likely to argue this point, so, let us look at other Texas cities suing because of SB4. After all, other Texas cities, especially on the border, would have similar concerns. Austin and Dallas are suing Texas. Houston is also planning to sue. All three have the sanctuary city label in common. Austin, Dallas and Houston are known as sanctuary cities. El Paso is not.
So why is El Paso also suing?
It comes down to managing public perception for political points. If, in fact, El Paso is suing to protect itself against possible litigation, then why not join the lawsuits of Austin, Dallas and Houston? After all, it would be cheaper to join a lawsuit then to litigate a new one. That makes sense if the issue is about protecting the taxpayer. But it is not.
The reason that Veronica Escobar is pushing for the County of El Paso to sue on its own behalf is because Escobar is playing a delicate balancing act between creating the illusion that she is supportive of immigrants’ rights, while making sure that the County of El Paso does not lose the money it severely depends on to stay afloat – federal dollars. Escobar wants her constituents to believe that she is pro-immigrants and protective of her disfranchised community while keeping federal dollars coming in.
Had Escobar joined the Austin, Dallas or Houston lawsuits she would accomplish the same outcome and save money but she would run the risk of exposing her hypocrisy when Abbot and the Trump administration threatens to take federal dollars away from the County because El Paso is a sanctuary city.
That, right there is the answer, it all comes down to money.
Tomorrow, I’ll prove to you why El Paso is not a sanctuary city, even though there is a notion that it is a defacto sanctuary city.