‘Sanctuary cities’ ban put on hold by judge
SB 4 immigration law had been set to go into effect on Friday.
A federal judge has temporarily blocked the implementation of Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” ban, a ruling that marks a major victory for critics of the controversial law that has been a rallying cry for Republican lawmakers across Texas and the nation.
In his ruling Wednesday evening, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia questioned the constitutionality of the state law and expressed concern over SB 4’s potential to make local authorities’ jobs more difficult by straining their relationships with their communities, The Dallas Morning News reported.
The ruling will prevent the law from taking effect Friday as it had been slated to. The ruling puts in place a temporary injunction while a lawsuit against the law goes forward.
“This ruling is good for Austin because SB 4 if ever implemented would make Austin less safe,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a news release. “This week’s crisis with Hurricane Harvey is just the most recent example why people need to feel safe approaching our local police and support groups, no matter what. If people in Austin do not feel safe asking for help, they become more vulnerable to crime, not just natural disasters.”
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez also said she was pleased with the ruling.
“I believe that local communities are stronger and safer when justice and secu- rity are a reality, not for some, but for all,” Hernandez said. “I look forward to the ultimate resolution.”
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt joined the list of Democratic leaders who praised the decision. Despite Garcia’s ruling,
the legal fight over the law is likely far from over.
Shortly after Garcia’s rul- ing, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he’d con- tinue to defend SB 4 in courts.
“Senate Bill 4 was passed by the Texas Legislature to set a statewide policy of coop- eration with federal immigration authorities enforcing our nation’s immigration laws,” Paxton said. “Texas has the sovereign authority and responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens. We’re confident SB 4 will ultimately be upheld as constitutional and lawful.”
Friday’s planned imple- mentation of SB 4 had local opponents fearful of what it will mean for immigrant communities in Austin and beyond.
SB 4 creates civil and criminal penalties for any elected official who prevents local cooperation with federal immigration detention requests placed on county jail inmates suspected of being in the country ille- gally. It also empowers local
police to investigate a person’s immigration status during routine police inter- actions, such as traffic stops.
Supporters of SB 4 believe the law will take criminals off the streets. Opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling, create dis- trust between residents and police and break up immigrant families.
When it was drafted, SB 4 seemed aimed at Sheriff Hernandez, who announced in late January that the Travis County Jail would ignore most of the so-called detainer requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hernandez’s policy allows suspected unauthorized immigrants to leave the jail if they post bail, with some excep- tions related to major crimes.
The policy created unprecedented acrimony between Hernandez, who was elected in 2016, and Gov. Greg Abbott, who vowed to have the sheriff tossed from office.
The 11th-hour injunction derailed local law enforce- ment agencies’ plans to comply with the law.
Before Wednesday’s injunction, a sheriff ’s office spokeswoman had said Hernandez was ready to follow the law and begin honoring all ICE detainers on Friday. Jail staff had been prepar- ing for the law, but no solid policy had been formalized on deputies inquiring about immigration status.
The Austin Police Department had also been ready to roll out a new policy Friday that outlined compliance with SB 4, interim Police Chief Brian Manley said.
Officers would have been required to fill out a report when investigating a person’s citizenship to indicate why an officer made an inquiry and what questions were asked, Manley said.
“This is an attempt of us to be fully transparent about when we ask questions related to a person’s immigration status,” Manley told the American-Statesman.
SB 4 prohibits questioning related to a person’s immigration status in cer- tain circumstances, includ
ing when officers are work- ing details for churches, hos- pitals or schools. However, opponents of the provision in SB 4 empowering officers to become proxy immigration cops say it will encour- age racial profiling. SB 4 also contains a provision that prohibits racial discrimina-
tion, but it provides no guid- ance as to how to walk the line between enforcement and the potential for over enforcement on the state’s large Hispanic population.
Something more strict was attempted in Arizona in 2010 with the passage of the con- troversial comprehensive immigration enforcement law Senate Bill 1070. The law not only encouraged but demanded law enforcement investigate anyone’s immigration status if a police offi- cer found “reasonable suspicion” that they might be in the country illegally. A court settlement in 2016 required the state to stop demanding its law enforcement officers to ask for the papers of peo- ple they might suspect of being in the country illegally.
Texas does not issue driver’s licenses to anyone who cannot provide proof of U.S. citizenship. As a result, when a driver is unable to provide a license during a traffic stop, it is often a signal that the person might be in the country illegally, Vaughan said.
Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, a conservative who has publicly supported
the spirit of SB 4, had said Tuesday that local implementation of the law had temporarily taken a back seat to response efforts to Hurricane Harvey.
SB 4 “is not our priority right now,” Chody said as he prepared to accompany deputies who are rescuing people from the catastrophic flooding in Houston. “The hurricane has really distracted us.”