Smallest, oldest sanctuary city in Texas challenges state ban

LULAC lawsuit likely first of others on horizon

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Within 24 hours of Gov. Greg Abbott enacting the sanctuary cities ban Sunday afternoon, the state’s oldest and smallest “safe haven” is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that is likely the first of others now on the horizon, challenging the law.

“I’m nervous and excited to be able to represent hundreds of families and thousands of people who have no voice and who live in fear,” said Raul Reyes, the mayor of El Cenizo, a community of about 3,300 people near Laredo.

READ MORE: Mayor of state's oldest, smallest sanctuary city standing firm

Although he wasn’t mayor in 1999 when the El Cenizo City Council adopted its safe haven ordinance, Reyes told KSAT 12 last month, he would stand firm against the state’s efforts, even if he was the only one willing to do it.

But the League of United Latin American Citizens, Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber and Maverick County Constable Mario Hernandez have joined Reyes and the city of El Cenizo as plaintiffs in the legal action filed Monday afternoon by Luis Vera, national general counsel for LULAC.

“When he became mayor, he was the youngest mayor of any township or any city in Texas,” Vera said. “It’s been a long fight for him in trying to keep the dignity of his town and the people he represents, the citizens who come through there, and the immigrants who come through there.”

The city ordinance doesn’t allow its small volunteer police force or even city employees to ask anyone about their immigration status.

RELATED: Abbott signs sanctuary cities bill into law

But the sanctuary cities ban would fine law enforcement and remove elected or appointed officials who don't enforce the law.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio for the Western District of Texas, asks for a “declaratory judgment and injunctive relief” stopping the law from taking effect Sept. 1, based on constitutional grounds.
Vera filed the lawsuit the same day Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed legal action asking the federal court in Ausitn to declare the newly enacted ban constitutional.

“The state of Texas is at it again. This law is aimed specifically at the Mexican people. No one else,” Vera said. “They started the fight. Now we hope to be able to finish it with a successful piece of litigation.”

CONTINUING COVERAGE: McManus on sanctuary cities bill: 'The community will no longer cooperate with us'

Reyes said he’s had strong positive and negative reaction to the story that aired on KSAT 12 about El Cenizo since the safe have ordinance was adopted.

He said some people have said he should be locked up and another asked how much he was paid to cry during his emotional response to the possible backlash he would likely face as the mayor of a sanctuary city.

“There is just some much hate," Reyes said, his voice breaking with emotion. "We know better than that,” 

READ MORE: Swift reaction to "sanctuary cities" law

But he said others praised his stance, calling him the “Cesar Chavez of Texas,” referring to the late labor leader and civil rights activist, and “the people’s mayor.”

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