“I don’t know why he is telling people something so blatantly untrue,” Austin City Council member Greg Casar said.
On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott assured Univision viewers via Facebook Live that only “serious” criminals need to worry about Senate Bill 4 — the anti-“sanctuary cities” legislation that critics say will tear immigrant families apart. A few hours later, dozens of activists gathered outside the Texas Capitol in a previously planned protest of the law. They made clear Abbott’s video had done little to assuage their fears.
“They’re only words, and talk is cheap,” said Carmen Zuvieta, an immigrant mother of three and activist with ICE Out of Austin. “His actions show who he really is and what he represents — terror for our community.”
SB 4, which goes into effect September 1, will allow local police to ask people who’ve been detained — not just arrested — to prove citizenship. The law also threatens to jail law enforcement officials who limit cooperation with federal immigration agents.
In the Univision interview streamed via Facebook Live around 11 a.m., Abbott said law-abiding immigrants shouldn’t fear the law he made a legislative priority.
“As the husband of the first Hispanic first lady in the State of Texas, I want to make sure that neither she nor her family is going to be stopped or detained inappropriately,” said Abbott. “If you are Hispanic … you are not going to be stopped and required to show your papers unless you are suspected of having committed some serious crime.”
But his message was not well-received among the crowd of activists outside the Capitol, including Austin City Council member Greg Casar, who was arrested with 23 others while protesting SB 4 in the lobby of Abbott’s office earlier this month.
“Read the bill — it does not say ‘serious crimes,’” Casar told the Observer. “The law that he championed says you can be asked about immigration status while simply being stopped, so I don’t know why he’s telling people something so blatantly untrue.”
Attendees carried signs reading “We’re not criminals; we’re working people,” “No hate; no SB 4” and “Austin fights back.”
“We’re afraid now because we see the racism against us, and that video doesn’t comfort me at all; it’s nothing but lies,” said Delia de la Cruz, mother of two and volunteer with the Workers Defense Project.
David Stout, an El Paso County commissioner, said his county plans to sue the state over the law. Casar suggested Austin wouldn’t be far behind.
Activists were also not impressed by Abbott’s reference to his wife, Cecilia.
“It’s ironic that he has a Latina wife, and it’s honestly cynical that … he’s against our community,” said Zuvieta.
When asked about Abbott’s attempts to appeal to the Latino community via his wife, Casar replied simply, “It’s embarrassing.”
At the press conference, Representative Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said the law would have political consequences for Abbott. “In 2018, we are coming for him,” he said.