San Antonio takes a step closer to becoming a Sanctuary City


When Greg Abbott and the State Legislature cracked down on aspiring sanctuary cities by passing SB-4, it did not represent the end of the battle. It signaled the beginning. Liberal city leaders and activist groups in San Antonio quickly filed suit against the State of Texas and developed plans to actively defy the law.

It is now crystal clear that Chief McManus’s intervention last December into a routine smuggling case and his unilateral decision to release the illegal immigrants was not a decision he made on his own. He was following a new unwritten policy that was not developed or debated by City Council. Instead, it was created in the shadows by Mayor

Nirenberg, City Manager Sculley, and Councilman Saldaňa, who worked with activist groups outside of the normal process and outside of the public view.

The San Antonio Express News reported that after the July 2017 incident where illegal immigrants were tragically found deceased in a trailer: “Police Chief William McManus, Councilman Rey Saldaña and Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, met three days later at City Hall. The meeting....opened lines of communication to bring in advocacy groups in similar incidents.

Out of this and subsequent meetings a new direction was agreed upon. The San Antonio Police Department will be expected to work closely with advocacy groups instead of cooperating with federal agencies when it comes to illegal immigrants, regardless of the circumstances.

Advocacy groups, legal aid organizations, and charities will be contacted by SAPD in order to protect illegal immigrants, presumably from federal immigration officials.  Chief McManus confirmed this when he spoke about the referenced December incident. He stated, “Everyone [illegal immigrants] was in good shape. Well fed, well clothed, well hydrated,”.  If this had been true, then there was no need to treat this incident as anything other than a routine smuggling case and turn it over to Homeland Security.

Homeland Security officials were wise not to challenge McManus in this particular case. Instead of a routine transfer of detainees from SAPD to Homeland Security as is normal procedure, the immigration officer walked into a new and hostile situation, with a host of immigrant activists and lawyers ready to create a scene and exploit the situation for publicity.  Immigration officials had to step back from this case and reassess how to move forward in this new and potentially confrontational relationship with SAPD leadership.  

Unfortunately, this incident significantly damaged San Antonio. Our rank and file police officers are upset and confused by Chief McManus’s actions, and they have no clear direction as to policy moving forward. Relationships with state and federal law enforcement agencies, already fragile, have taken a huge hit. Federal grant money for cooperation between SAPD and immigration agencies has been jeopardized.

Far worse is the clear message that San Antonio is now in practice, if not officially named, a Sanctuary City. The message to illegal immigrants is if you can make it to San Antonio, you will not be detained by local authorities. Instead, SAPD will, as a policy, help you avoid federal authorities by connecting you with free legal aid and organizations that will help you. This will make San Antonio a magnet for illegal immigration.

It also remains uncertain what the procedure with Homeland Security will be in future incidents. Remember, it was not Chief McManus who called in Homeland Security, but a officer on the scene following well established procedure. Chief McManus intervened. Under the new policy will officers be instructed to not call in Homeland Security at all? Will future smuggling cases be treated as local issues and all detained immigrants treated as victims, with no steps taken to determine if they have a criminal background? These question demand answers.

Two things need to happen. First, San Antonio City Council needs to officially address this issue and either ratify or denounce this new unwritten policy. The citizens deserve to know where each of their elected leaders stand, as do members of our local law enforcement. Secondly, it is clear that SB-4 will need more work during the next legislative session. Lawsuits from activist groups and liberal city leaders will expose weaknesses in SB-4 that will have to be addressed and ambiguous language that will have to be firmed up. The work on SB-4 is not finished.

If elected as representative to Texas House District 121, voters may be assured that I will work diligently with state leadership to strengthen SB-4 and close any loopholes, that I will expect both the spirit of the law as well as its technical requirements be adhered to by local leaders, and that I will fight any attempt to turn San Antonio into a Sanctuary City.

Thank you,

Carlton Soules