Protesters were charged with a Class B misdemeanor and released to a crowd of cheering supporters.
An Austin City Council member and 23 others were arrested Monday evening on criminal trespassing charges after occupying the lobby of the Texas governor’s office for eight hours in protest of Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities legislation made a priority by Governor Greg Abbott.
“Today is only the beginning of the fight against SB 4,” said councilman Gregorio Casar, whose parents are Mexican immigrants.
Around 10 a.m. the group filled Abbott’s office at the State Insurance Building at the Capitol complex, chanting and carrying signs that read “sanctuary for all” and “Senate Bill 4: Anti-immigrant and anti-democracy.” They called on Abbott — who made anti-‘sanctuary city’ legislation an emergency item for the session — to veto SB 4.
After the building closed at 5 p.m. and the demonstrators refused to leave, Department of Public Safety (DPS) state troopers, who had forced members of the media out of the building, arrested 24 people, including Casar. They were processed at the scene and weren’t taken to jail.
“Repeated requests by DPS officials to leave when the building closed were ignored, and the suspects were subsequently arrested,”said Victor Taylor, a DPS staff sergeant, in a statement. “All 24 suspects arrested were given a sign release citation for criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor, and released.”
After being released from zip-ties, they walked outside the building to a cheering crowd of nearly a hundred people who had gathered in support.
The dozens of protesters were organized by activist groups including Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes mass incarceration. Throughout the day, the group blocked entrances to the building. They sang and media gathered. The Travis County Democratic Party sent the group a stack of pizzas. At one point, the protesters held a teach-in on the details of SB 4.
Democratic lawmakers last week derided SB 4 as racist, anti-immigrant and bad for public safety during a 16-hour debate on the House floor. The bill would deputize local police officers around the state to enforce federal immigration law, including asking people who have been detained — not just arrested — to prove citizenship. It could also jail law enforcement officials who enact policies that prohibit assisting federal immigration officials. Critics have labeled SB 4 “show me your papers” legislation and compared it to Arizona’s infamous SB 1070.
“SB 4 is not just immoral but also unconstitutional,” said Barbara Hines, senior fellow at the Emerson Collective and former director of the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic.
Hines said she expects SB 4, which has passed the Senate and House, to face a legal challenge for infringing on the domain of the federal government, sanctioning unconstitutional detention and encouraging racial profiling.
The demonstration took place on International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day, in which activists around the world took to to the streets to march for labor rights. In the United States, protesters used the demonstrations to voice opposition to President Trump’s policies, specifically concerning the country’s 11 million undocumented migrants.
“People all over the the world celebrate May 1 because of the strike that won the 40-hour work week,” said Casar. “We have to remember that the victories of the workers’ movement, and the civil rights movement, weren’t won because people were quiet and obeyed but because people of conscience stood up.”
See reporter Gus Bova’s live coverage below: