Protesters participate in sit-in demanding Gov. Greg Abbott to not sign ‘sanctuary cities’ bill

Lisa Dreher

Norma Herrera was among those protesting Senate Bill 4 on Monday, the same day her mother was getting her annual check-in with immigration enforcement. 

This time around, Herrera was afraid her mother would be deported following a crackdown on immigration and last week’s passage of SB 4, which would outlaw “sanctuary cities” and allow local law enforcement to inquire about someone’s immigration status when detained.

“On days like today, I’m reminded I have a lot of people who support me,” said Herrera, who used to be undocumented. “I’m moving back home soon, but for as long as I’m here in Austin, I feel like I have to be doing these events because it’s my moral obligation to say something.”

About 50 people blocked the entrance to the State Insurance Building on Monday and demanded Gov. Greg Abbott veto the bill he has vowed to sign once it reaches his desk. During the sit-in, about 20 protesters ­— including Austin city council man Greg Casar — were given citations for trespassing, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The sit-in was organized by advocacy groups including Workers Defense Project and Grassroots Leadership. A few streets away, chants of “How do we build sanctuary? Student workers’ solidarity” resonated during an International Workers’ Day rally and walk-out at the UT Tower.

Members of the UT community demanded the UT administration declare and establish UT as a “sanctuary campus” protecting its undocumented students.

Anthropology senior Juan Belman, who is undocumented and a member of University Leadership Initiative, said he is passionate about making campus safe for everyone.

“We haven’t seen administration take action when students are racially profiled,” Belman said. “When there are parties that are racist (and) we see racist fliers on campus, that creates an environment that’s not safe for everyone.”

The walk-out and sit-in were part of an annual May Day protest for workers’ rights, which this year also included protesting SB 4’s passage.

Herrera, who became a resident when she was 21 and graduated from UT, said she participated in the sit-in because the bill was passed despite the 16 hours of debate and tears shed by families who feared being separated.

“We told them we didn’t want this bill in an overwhelming majority,” Herrera said. “They passed it through anyway.”

Amanda Cavazos Weems works with high school students in the lower-income areas of South Lamar and Rundberg in Austin and said they were too scared to attend class following recent crackdowns on immigration.

“I went to having 20 to 30 students in a class to having like three or four,” Weems said. “It breaks my heart that those kids are terrified to go to school for fear of being separated from their families.”

During debate last week, the state House of Representatives tacked on an amendment which allows local law enforcement to ask about one’s immigration status during detainment. Weems said the “show me your papers” amendment, which mimics an act passed in Arizona in 2010, is unconstitutional.

“I think that really opens the doors to racial profiling,” Weems said. “As a person of color, I know that I’m probably going to be the type of person that police officers would stop.”