Raul Reyes is the 34-year-old mayor of El Cenizo, Texas, a sweltering border town of 3,200 that sits beside the Rio Grande, where nearly all the residents are Latino, many are immigrants, and quite a few are undocumented too. It’s a sanctuary of sorts, a town that, since 1999, has had a policy prohibiting local police officers from asking about someone’s immigration status. It’s the town where Reyes was born and raised and a town whose residents he cares for fiercely.
And so, when the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signed his ultra-reactionary anti-immigrant bill SB 4 into law in early May, Reyes did not hesitate. Despite El Cenizo’s small size, despite severe financial constraints, and despite the potent power of a Republican-dominated state government, the mayor decided that the town had to respond forcefully, and fast.
“Someone,” he says, “had to do something about it.”
On May 8, less than 24 hours after Abbott had scratched his signature on SB 4, El Cenizo, along with Maverick County and the League of United Latin American Citizens, sued Texas in federal court, arguing that “the extraordinarily punitive law” violated a diverse slew of constitutional protections, including the First, Fourth, and 10th Amendments. The new law, which cracks down on sanctuary policies across the state, includes language that imposes harsh penalties on local governments and officials who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
El Cenizo’s legal challenge was the first brick in what has become a towering barricade of lawsuits, protests, and grassroots agitation meant to block the law from taking effect this coming September. Indeed, the tiny town has a movement behind it. Since early May, the state’s four biggest cities—Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas—as well as numerous sheriffs’ departments, county governments, and civil-society groups, have all sued in an attempt to overturn the bill. Protests, rallies, and impassioned grassroots campaigns, meanwhile, are sweeping across the state. In recent weeks, more than a dozen Dreamers were arrested near the capitol building as they engaged in civil disobedience to protest deportations under Trump and try to stop SB 4. A troupe of young women dressed in bright gowns and celebrating their quinceñeras showed up at the legislature to dance and register their disgust with lawmakers. In late July, scores of progressive elected officials from cities around the country converged in Austin to denounce the law.
As the long, hot summer of 2017 rolls on, Texas is roiled by a local, mostly urban, resistance.
“This bill is reckless, it is dangerous, it is discriminatory, and it opens up the door to racial profiling,” says Reyes. “In the most powerful country in the world, no person should have to live in fear.”