Local immigration attorneys seeing influx of calls about 'sanctuary city' law

Sanctuary cities (Credit: MGN Online)

A borderland immigration attorney said phone calls are pouring in from people scared about Texas' new 'sanctuary cities' law. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law Sunday on Facebook Live. The sanctuary cities law, or Senate Bill 4, doesn't take effect until September, but some immigration attorneys in El Paso have already been getting a lot of calls from people who are worried about what will happen next.

Immigration Attorney Mario Ortiz Saroldi said the sanctuary cities law will impact the Borderland on a daily basis.

"You are going to have individuals who normally wouldn't be asking you questions about your immigration status, now being able to do so on a normal, routine traffic stop,” Saroldi said.

He said the law is concerning to him because people might be fearful of contacting police.

"Even if they're victims of a crime, they're not going to want to call law-enforcement because they're afraid of what is going to be happening to them in case they get picked up because of their immigration status,” Saroldi said. "I also think it's going to be fearful that people aren't going to want to be part of the community and they are going to want to hide in the shadows of the community. I think that's not a good thing for this community."

Roberto Valadez Peña immigrated to El Paso from Juarez when he was a baby. He thinks crime will increase in El Paso.

"I'll just let my husband beat me up, or whatever the case may be, I'll just let that person rob me. Because I fear for my legal status,” Peña said. “We pride ourselves on being one of the safest cities in the country, but after SB4, a lot of people in our community are going to be afraid to talk to law enforcement. So say goodbye to safest city in the country definitely."

Saroldi said the biggest concern is the fear of racial profiling.

“They feel they are just going to be pulled over because of the color of their skin,” Saroldi said. “And you are not having that concern just by people who have no immigration status. You also have that concern for lawful, United States citizens who are also concerned of racial profiling. They don't like the idea of being pulled over and detained for no reason."

Saroldi said you do have rights. He said legally, your immigration status is not relevant in a traffic stop, and the courts are going to have to decide whether that's even a legal question to ask.

"In regards to their rights, their rights are they have to identify who they are,” Saroldi said. “Whether they are an immigrant or non-immigrant technically does not apply to whether or not they violated traffic law. So there is that issue there. So the question whether they answer it or not is really going to be up to them right now, but the law says that law-enforcement can ask them the question. It doesn't really say what they have to do with that information."

Saroldi said it’s important for immigrants in El Paso to follow local laws carefully.

“Don't try to commit a crime, obey traffic laws. But also they need to go speak to a professional licensed attorney who specializes in immigration law so they can help counsel them and guide them through this process,” Saroldi said. "In the last few weeks, we've been having an abundance of calls from people who are very concerned as to how this is going to impact them, their loved ones, because obviously more people are very concerned as to how this can affect them. We are asking all individuals who have questions and doubts and concerns about this new law that is taking affect in September to contact an immigration attorney. Someone who specializes in this area so they can get more for their guidance from this."

"It's an anti-immigrant rhetoric that we've been listening to since last year. I'm disappointed, but it's not a surprise,” Peña said. “Locals should be becoming more informed, more wel-educated. And as allies, becoming more verbal. Having a bigger presence because you do have the voice that a lot of us don't have."

Peña is an organizer at "Education, Not Deportation." It is a collective of student organizations at UTEP. The group will be doing "Know Your Rights" workshops to inform students and people in the community about what to do when encountering law enforcement officers.

"Our main goal is to have UTEP verbally say, 'we are a sanctuary campus. We are behind our dreamers, our international students, we are with you.' They say, 'we are already sanctuary.' But we want you to say it,” Peña said.

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