Texas asks appeals court to reinstate anti-sanctuary law
Texas asked a federal appeals court Thursday to revive the state’s new antisanctuary city law, moving quickly to try to overturn a district judge’s ruling that most of the law is unconstitutional.
The move, which was expected, heightens the legal showdown between Texas and a number of cities in the state, who are desperately fighting to keep their sanctuary policies, saying they fear relations with their immigrant communities would be poisoned if they cooperate with federal deportation officers.
District Judge Orlando L. Garcia had sided with the cities in a ruling late Wednesday, saying that the federal government has the obligation to enforce immigration laws and states cannot try to force cooperation.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed, saying the state law was the result of careful deliberations that concluded sanctuary cities make residents less safe.
He first asked Judge Garcia to halt his ruling to let the law take effect Friday, while the appeals court hears the case. The judge refused.
“While Defendants have an interest in implementing and enforcing their enacted laws, the protection of constitutional rights is paramount,” Judge Garcia wrote. “The public interest will not be served by granting a stay.”
Mr. Paxton quickly filed his appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The battle comes even as Mr. Paxton is helping oversee Texas’s recovery efforts after Harvey.
The new Texas law, SB4, would impose penalties on localities that enact sanctuary policies preventing status checks or limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Elected or appointed officials could be removed from office, while police chiefs and sheriffs could face criminal charges for defying the new law.
SB4 would also permit police to check immigration status of those they encounter and have reasonable suspicion to believe are in the country illegally — though it doesn’t require the checks.
Judge Garcia issued an injunction blocking the anti-sanctuary provisions, but allowed the police checks to proceed.
He ruled that the Supreme Court has already said police checks are legal, as long as someone isn’t stopped specifically for a check, and the stop doesn’t last longer than usual.
Immigrant-rights groups call the checks an intrusive “show-your-papers” law, and urged police not to use it, saying it’s discretionary.
The groups also said illegal immigrants have no obligation to answer officers’ questions about their status.
“Local police are not permitted to arrest, hold, or turn over someone based on information or suspicion about immigration status. That means that anyone questioned by local police about immigration does not have to answer the questions,” said the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
Arizona pioneered a police-immigration checks law in 2010, passing what was known as SB1070.
That law went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices in a major 2012 ruling erased the parts that called for stiff state penalties on illegal immigrants, but left in place a provision requiring police to inquire about immigration status.
In the years since, the state has agreed to limits on how police use the law, consistent with what the Supreme Court said: stops cannot be prolonged to check on immigration status, and those questioned can’t be targeted on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Whether the law has made any difference, however, is questionable.
In the years immediately after the law, its author, former state Sen. Russell Pearce, said the crime rate in Phoenix reached a 30-year low.
But the Arizona Republic, in a fact-check last year, said it was impossible to attribute any drop in the crime rate to the law. The newspaper said crime in the state did fall either 9 or 13 percent, depending on whether state or FBI statistics were used, but it wasn’t clear that SB1070 was the cause.
The unauthorized migrant population also dropped — though it had been falling since even before the law, in what analysts say was likely a reaction to the slumping economy from the Wall Street collapse.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the controversial anti-sanctuary city law was the result of careful deliberations.