Demonstrators Arrested After Staging Sit-In At State Office To Protest 'Sanctuary' Bill

May 1, 2017

Officers arrested demonstrators who staged an all-day sit-in Monday to protest legislation banning so-called "sanctuary" jurisdictions.

Dozens of people staged the sit-in at the Texas State Insurance Building, calling for Gov. Greg Abbott to reject Senate Bill 4, which would require cooperation with warrantless detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

After nearly nine hours, protesters were told to leave by Department of Public Safety officers. Those who did not were told they'd either be cited or booked on site by a judge. Roughly 20 people were either arrested or cited.

Minister Jim Rigby of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church was among the first to be taken into custody. A crowd outside the building chanted, "We stand with you." 

Council Member Greg Casar was also arrested and charged with criminal trespassing, his chief of staff, Neesha Davé, said. 

In a statement on Facebook following his arrest, Casar said he could not "accept the damage anti-immigrant politicians will do to our families through this law, if it is allowed to stand."

Abbott made the issue an emergency item for the legislative session and has publicly criticized Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez's policy regarding the warrantless requests. Abbott also pulled $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from the county because of the policy, which honors requests only if someone has been charged with murder, human trafficking or aggravated sexual assault.

The sit-in was organized by the immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. Cristina Parker, a projects coordinator for the group, said early in the day, “We’ll do what we have to do to get our message across today. We’re not leaving until they hear it or they drag us out of here.”  

Casar described the bill, known as SB 4, to KUT's Audrey McGlinchy as "unconstitutional" and "anti-immigrant." He said he believes the bill, which would allow law enforcement to inquire about an individual's immigration status during detainment, not merely after an individual is arrested, would jeopardize relations between the Austin Police Department and immigrant communities.  

"This law basically wants to turn our police officers into folks asking to show me your papers," Casar said. [Abbott] wants to force local jails into holding immigrants without a warrant for deportation. And, I think this law is unconstitutional, and we're going to fight it to the end."

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday. 

Demonstrators stage a sit-in to protest Senate Bill 4, which would penalize so-called "sanctuary" jurisdictions
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Austin singer Gina Chavez performs for the protesters.
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
Sofia Casini of Grassroots Leadership along with dozens of protesters demand officers allow lawyers into the building where demonstrators were being arrested.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Raices, demands officers either let him into the building or arrest him.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT