Stephanie Gharakhanian

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Stephanie Gharakhanian is an Austin Texas activist.

Texas DSA members Join the Fight to Stop a New Anti-immigrant Law

By June 2017, Austin Democratic Socialists of America had built a large membership of over 640 members by being active as allies against a number of attacks on communities of color, women and LGBTQ people over the last two years.

This work has intensified since Trump took office. Perhaps their most important campaign, which other groups can learn from, is their current fight against an anti-immigrant bill.

On May 29th, national media coverage showed footage of hundreds of people in Austin, Texas chanting and protesting in the Capitol against a new anti-illegal immigrant law known as SB4, for “Senate Bill 4.”

SB4 is a highly controversial bill that mandates local police and sheriffs to essentially become an arm of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Under the bill, local peace officers would be given broad authority to ask the immigration status of anyone stopped by an officer for almost any reason. Thus, the moniker: “Show Me Your Papers Law.” SB4 began as a priority of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott.
The authors of the bill in the Senate specifically targeted Austin Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who ran on a campaign of constitutional rights of undocumented residents and non-cooperation beyond the legal requirements with ICE. The only female in a field of six, she won handily in the Democratic primary, and five months later in the general election against a Republican. Sheriff Hernandez said in a hearing on the bill in April that SB4 will "coerce local law enforcement to divert scarce resources to enforcing federal immigration laws, at a risk to public safety.”
During hearings in the Senate and the House, hundreds of people, many of them immigrants or family of immigrants, both documented and not, testified and signed in opposition to the bill. Sheriffs and chiefs of police testified that the bill would undermine the trust between the police and the immigrant and Latino communities, leaving their cities and towns less safe. Mayors, lawyers, school administrators and school board members spoke out against the mass deportation provisions of the bill and its potentially devastating impact on families, children, businesses and the Texas economy.

Despite these large protests, the House and the Senate passed the bill. Advocates were outraged that the bill was made far more egregious in the final evening of late-night amendments to the bill in the House, where Tea Party reactionaries one-upped each other.

The day after the bill was signed into law, Austin DSA’s Feminist Action Committee met. Because of the mobilizing on May Day, guest speaker at the meeting was Stephanie Gharakhanian, Legal Services Director for the Workers Defense Project, a construction worker rights organization. After her presentation on the impact of SB4 on communities of color, the committee members voted to draft a resolution to oppose SB4 for Austin DSA’s monthly meeting three days later. The resolution, passed unanimously by the more than 130 members present, called for members to participate in a Day of Action on May 29 and to join the Summer of Resistance to the bill, which includes actions to promote public education and to call for cities around Texas to join law suits against SB4.

Thirty members signed up to help mobilize members for the actions on 5/29. Atx DSA and LUTU held two phone banks to call 400 members about 5/29. Monica Olvera helped plan the phone banks and organized a poster party where 10 members made 50 posters for the rally.[1]