This Small-Town Texas Mayor Is Fighting Gov. Abbott’s ‘Papers, Please’ Law


Stethoscope on American Flag with Selective Focus.In El Cenizo, Texas, mayor Raul Reyes has filed a lawsuit with the state expressing his opposition to a new immigration law — one that many activists consider to be the Texan version of a “papers, please” law, according to NBC News.

Ever since Arizona passed the infamous “Show Me Your Papers Law” in 2010, many hard-line conservatives have been fighting to spread these “papers, please” laws to other border states. These bills give law enforcement officers the authority to demand identification or proof of citizenship from anyone, full stop. Supporters say it’s a justified response to illegal immigration; critics say it’s an obvious justification for racial profiling.

Now, the Show Me Your Papers debate has come to Texas in the form of SB4. The law was recently signed by Texas governor Greg Abbott, but Reyes thinks of it as nothing short of “a reckless, dangerous, and discriminatory law.” And he’s not afraid to make that opinion known.

Reyes is just 34, and like many small town mayors, he just wants to improve his town.

“This is actually a popular fishing spot,” Reyes recently told NBC Latino while touring a local stretch of the Rio Grande. “I wish people wouldn’t leave their trash here,” Reyes added, pointing to discarded beer cans and plastic bags on the shore.

The United States uses about 100 billion plastic bags per year, many of which end up washing up on coastlines and poisoning marine life, and Rio Grande is just one of the many bodies of water polluted with plastic and debris.

Because the Rio Grande flows along the U.S.-Mexico border, NBC Latino reporter Raul A. Reyes (no relation to Mayor Reyes), writes that El Cenizo is “literally and figuratively in the middle of the national debate over sanctuary city laws.” Mayor Reyes is now the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Together, they allege that the signed law is “coercive and unconstitutional.”

The law, in essence, gives Texas police officers the authority to question the immigration status of anybody they detain. In addition, SB4 cracks down on sanctuary cities; it requires that local law enforcement officers follow any federal requests to detain suspects. Failure to do so can result in severe non-compliance penalties, which can include jail time, fees and fines, and even the possibility of being removed from office.

Supporters of SB4, of which there are many in Texas and around the country, say it’s all about public safety.

A spokesperson for Governor Abbott said in a statement, “this bill will help keep dangerous criminals off our streets and protect innocent lives. For every ounce of criticism, there is a pound of praise from Texans who simply want laws to keep them safe.”

However, Reyes doesn’t quite see it that way. As the mayor of a 3,300-resident, 99% Latino town, he estimates that between 15% and 20% of his city’s residents are undocumented, and worries that the enforcement of the law will lead to mass discrimination and racial profiling.

“We are a small town in the nowhere of South Texas but I truly believe we are doing the right thing in taking a stand,” he said. “This is bigger than me, bigger than El Cenizo, even bigger than Texas. If this [case] goes to the Supreme Court, which we anticipate that it will, it will be a landmark decision.”

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