The season to protest for justice in Texas

June 8, 2017

Eric Nava-Perez, a migrant movement activist and organizer with the Sanctuary UT movement at the University of Texas, writes from Austin about the launch of a summerlong campaign to protest one of the most draconian anti-immigrant laws in the country.

ON MEMORIAL Day, immigrant rights activists in Texas kicked off their call for a "Summer of Resistance" against Senate Bill 4 (SB 4)--also known as the "Show Me Your Papers" bill.

People poured in from several states across the country in solidarity with immigrants and their struggle against the national onslaught launched by the Trump administration, and now the attack in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott last month signed legislation that the ACLU called "the worst racial profiling, anti-immigrant bill in the country."

SB 4 bars cities and universities from establishing sanctuary status for the undocumented. They can be fined $25,000 a day and officials, including police officers, jailed for failing to comply with federal requests for information on the immigration status of residents and students--and local police are allowed to ask about the status of not only people under arrest, but those who are deemed victims and even witnesses to crimes.

The May 29 demonstrations were primarily organized by United We Dream, the largest youth-led immigrant organization in the country, and supported by other groups, including Democratic Socialists of America, Education Austin, International Socialist Organization, Immigrants United, Workers Defense Project and University Leadership Initiative.

Opponents of SB 4 in Texas launched a "Summer of Resistance" with protests in the Capitol building
Opponents of SB 4 in Texas launched a "Summer of Resistance" with protests in the Capitol building (Jeffrey Harland | SW)

The day of action, which took place during the last day of the legislative session, began with almost 1,000 activists taking over the Texas House gallery.

Chants such as "Queer, undocumented and unafraid!" could be heard from outside, setting off physical altercations between Texas lawmakers. Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on protesters--and threatened to shoot state Rep. Poncho Nevarez for having tried to restrain Rinaldi in response to his initial threat to call ICE.

By 12 noon, protesters exited the House gallery, marched around the Capitol building a few times and held a brief speakout. Despite Rinaldi's intimidation tactics, the day wnded with a celebratory vibe, thanks in part to guest performers and their instruments.

THE CITY of Austin has joined El Cenizo, El Paso and San Antonio in a federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of SB 4. "This law provides that an elected official, such as myself, could be removed from office for endorsing a policy that is contrary to Senate Bill 4," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "Lest there be any question, I am today endorsing a policy that is different from that set out in Senate Bill 4."

Organizers from United We Dream and other organizations promise more protests to come, along with the legal actions being pursued by city officials.

"I have lived in Houston for most of my life," said United We Dream organizer Karla Perez, a University of Houston graduate student who is undocumented. "This is my home. I am here to defend it and I'm here to stay...It is time to take action in the streets, in the courts, and on the airwaves."

The aim of immigrant rights activism during the Summer of Resistance will be to try to stop SB 4 before it goes into effect in September. There will be participation from Democrats like Adler, of course, but the movement will need to take care to maintain independence.

In 2006, the mega-marches and other protests were able to defeat federal legislation proposed by Republicans that would have criminalized all 13 million undocumented immigrants. But one slogan from that year was "Today we march, tomorrow we vote." That got us the deporter-in-chief Barack Obama.

While Obama was in office, it was the courageous direct actions of undocumented youth staging sit-ins and other actions that obtained the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We will need the same dedication to struggle to turn back the anti-immigrant agenda in Texas and around the country.

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