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A tiny town is suing Texas over a bill that punishes sanctuary cities

El Cenizo, population 3,800, is situated in Webb County and is about 99 percent Latino.

A tiny southern Texas town on the banks of the Rio Grande became the first in the Lone Star State to bring the heat against Gov. Greg Abbott for signing the controversial “Show Me Your Papers” bill that aims to punish so-called sanctuary cities.

On Tuesday, officials from El Cenizo filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill (also known as “SB4”), naming Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants in the case.


El Cenizo, population 3,800, is situated in Webb County and is about 99 percent Latino. Raul Reyes, who became the city’s mayor at age 21 in 2004, told The Dallas Morning News that the lawsuit was intended to protect El Cenizo’s residents, many of whom are undocumented.

“These are people who we’ve gone to school with, these are people who we’ve shared a hot meal with at one point in time, people who we sat next to in church services,” he told the paper. “Now all of a sudden, to say we’re going to turn our backs on them just because they don’t have a piece of paper is un-American.”

“The use of city and county resources for federal immigration enforcement breeds distrust of local government and officials, who have no power to change federal laws, and can also wrench apart family and community structures,” the lawsuit charges.

SB4, which calls for the prosecution of police chiefs and sheriffs who defy federal immigration law, is expected to take effect Sept 1. The law also permits local law enforcement to interrogate residents about their immigration status, even during routine traffic stops.

This isn’t the first time that El Cenizo has stepped up in order to protect its residents. In 1999, the city passed a “Safe Haven Ordinance” — basically an early version of a Sanctuary city. A Washington Times article at the time noted, “as border patrol and immigration agents work nonstop to keep illegal aliens out of the country, a tiny town in south Texas plies its own version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” That same year, the city council also made Spanish the official language of El Cenizo.

On Monday evening, in a preemptive move to safeguard the law against future legal challenges, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit seeking to have SB4 declared constitutional.

Officials from other cities, police chiefs and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been sharply critical of the law and expressed an intent to file their own lawsuits.