Mar 10, 2024

More Than a Thousand Protesters Rally at Capitol Against Texas’ New Immigration Law

Reporting Texas

Protesters carry signs advocating for migrants and people of color March 9, 2024, during a rally against SB 4, Texas’ new immigration law. About 1,500 people attended the rally. Abby L. Johnston/Reporting Texas

More than a thousand marchers, many shouting “No SB 4” and “si se puede,” descended on the Capitol March 10 in protest of Senate Bill 4, a measure that enables local and state law enforcement to arrest people suspected of crossing the border illegally.

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court halted the law, which has become a flashpoint in the national fight over immigration enforcement, until at least March 13, as the court considers the measure’s fate. 

“Our humanity is at stake,” said Michelle Venegas-Matula, a protester from Austin. Venegas-Matula is a congregational and justice organizer at the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry. 

“Whenever people are endangering their lives and dying at the border because of state sanctioned violence against people who are just wanting some place safe for their families, it really speaks to how we are as a people,” Venegas-Matula said.

Venegas-Matula and other critics say SB 4 will lead to racial profiling and discrimination.

The  Capitol rally, spearheaded by the Border Network for Human Rights and the ACLU of Texas, included a coalition of over 50 organizations from around the state.

“SB 4 violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution and is preempted by federal law,”  the ACLU said in a statement in February.

Protesters carried paper and cardboard monarch butterflies to symbolize what they called the beauty of migration. They hoisted the painted butterfly signs high in the air alongside signs of protest with slogans such as “Justice for Migrants Justice for All,” and “Texas is Bigger than Hate” 

The rally also included Aztec dance performances from the cultural group Itzcoatl Tezkatlipoka Houston and giant puppets, including one of former President Donald Trump. During a skit, some of the butterflies  descended on the Trump effigy until the likeness of the former President backed away and disappeared into the crowd.  

Aztec dancers at a rally against SB 4 at the Capitol on March 9, 2024. Abby L. Johnston/Reporting Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 in December. The measure creates a state crime of “illegal entry,” punishable by up to six months in prison. The law also requires state judges to deport individuals if they are convicted. 

A defiant Abbott said in a press release after the signing that Texas will not back down from “President Biden’s border crisis.”

“The President of the United States has a constitutional duty to enforce federal laws protecting states, including laws already on the books that mandate the detention of illegal immigrants,” Abbott said.

U.S. Border patrol encounters with migrants at the Texas-Mexico border hit an all-time high of almost 2.5 million in 2023, according to government statistics. Many of the migrants arriving at the border are asylum seekers and refugees who say they are fleeing economic hardship, political upheaval and gang violence in their home countries.

A giant puppet of former President Donald Trump at a rally against SB 4, Texas’ new immigration law, March 9, 2024. Abby L. Johnston/Reporting Texas

State Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch supporter of SB 4, called the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision temporarily halting the measure “incorrect.” 

“Texas has a clear right to defend itself from the drug smugglers, human traffickers, cartels, and legions of illegal aliens crossing into our State as a consequence of the Biden Administration’s deliberate policy choices,” Paxton said in a statement.

At the Capitol protest, ACLU Border and Immigrants Rights Strategist Sarah Cruz said Texas’ leaders are simply wrong.

“People should continue to live in Texas without having to fear policing or law enforcement,” Cruz said.

 “SB 4 is an unconstitutional law because it would allow peace officers throughout the city of Texas to arrest and detain people. This is not their training. I think there is a concern of who can get swept up into SB 4” she added.

Carolina Canizales, the Senior Campaign Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, also attended the rally. Canizales says her organization is working to assist communities in defending their rights against unjust deportations.

“All of these policies and bills are designed to criminalize first and then deport,” Canizales said.