Texas Declares War on Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants
With all the legal ‘rifle shots’ going off between the state of Texas and the communities within the state who it accuses of harboring illegal immigrants in sanctuary, it is beginning to look like the state’s real targets in all of this are not the immigrants themselves. It is any entity within the state that challenges the state's power.
The U.S. Constitution is under attack in Texas and the state is leading the charge.
On April 27, 2017, the first ‘rifle shot’ went out – from the state. It came when Texas House passed Senate Bill 4, also referred to as the “anti-sanctuary cities” bill. The law allows state and local government officials, plus even college campus police, to be charged with a Class A misdemeanor if they fail to comply with detainer requests from immigration officials at the Federal level.
A detainer hold, also known as an immigration hold, is a formal request from ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, that local law personnel must hold a prisoner on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant, even though there may be no state or local charges filed against the person. That is, in some people’s eyes at least, a direct violation of the 4th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which prevent false imprisonment. Yet it happens every day across the United States.
Under the new Texas law, those state and local government officials who refuse to cooperate with the de- tainer request, if found guilty, can be sent to jail for up to a year and fined up to $25,000 per day that they do not comply.
The law further allows officers to challenge the immigration status of anyone who was lawfully detained for any other reason. That could include offenses as small as traffic moving violations or even littering. They could demand proof of citizenship and legally detain them until such proof has been made available. The standard ID that most people carry is not sufficient to prove citizenship.
It also makes it a crime for such officials not to assist ICE if it requests them to act on their behalf in their local community. Though it has not happened yet, it could end up, for example, requiring campus police at a school to begin cracking down on attendees and/ or employees ICE may suspect of being illegals. It also could end up requiring untrained individuals to be brought in to enforce immigration laws and potentially violate civil rights through such ‘automatic’ (and illegal) approaches as racial profiling – assuming if the individuals are Latino then perhaps they are more likely to be an illegal than someone else. With San Antonio, one of the targets for the State’s crackdown on sanctuary activities, having 936,000 (or 64%) of its 1.49 million residents as Latino, and Austin, with 34% of its residents also Latino, such illegal actions which amount to racially-targeted ‘stop and frisk’ operations are sure to create even more unrest in the communities than existing before.
The second ‘rifle shot’ that came in this battle also came from the Texas State government. Anticipating that there would be numerous individual lawsuits filed against Senate Bill 4 and charging it as unconstitutional, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed his own ‘pre-emptive strike’ lawsuit on May 7 against the city of Austin, Travis County (the county in which Austin resides), and several individuals, including Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez. (Hernandez had previously halted deputies from asking about immigration status and had supported limited cooperation with Federal Immigration agents.) The suit uses those locations as examples of how sanctuary cities and local authorities who agree with sanctuary have created problems for law-abiding citizens. It also asks that the court rule that the new law is constitutional.
There are many things broken about this new law, not the least of which are that is attacking the symptom rather than the root cause behind illegal immigration. Decades ago, the promise of better jobs and opportunities across the U.s.-mexican border did attract many to seek greener pastures on the northern side of that divide. Now, especially with the NAFTA treaty in place and many enterprises intentionally building advanced factories and other kinds of facilities south of the border, good jobs are in fact far more available than before – so there is less reason to leave now just because of job opportunity.
Those who immigrate illegally and seek sanctuary within U.S. borders also are far from the criminals and malcontents Donald Trump and others would have one believe. Many come here and, with schooling and hard work, end up eventually getting good jobs, make a positive contribution to society, enter the economy themselves and buy things (creating other jobs), and pay local and federal taxes. There are of course those who come in to skirt the law and live in the shadows as active criminals, but those are a far smaller part of those who illegally enter the U.S. than the other kind described above and can be controlled through existing laws.
A far more serious issue, especially regarding Mexico and those communities close to the border, involves the growing power of illegal drug cartels. Those cartels, which control and corrupt a sizeable percentage of the population in their regions, lead a violent existence where those standing against them are often in more jeopardy than those who choose to join the criminals’ ranks. Even worse, thanks to U.S. Government involvement in training killers on both sides of the Mexican drug wars, including corrupt authorities and those who manufacture and distribute the illegal goods, the fights are escalating to higher levels of body counts year after year. The U.S. has even taken the step of providing illegal arms to the criminals themselves, under multiple programs including the Obama-era fiasco known as Operation Fast and Furious. That last step was taken with the thought of the criminals being traced in their crimes using the weapons themselves to do that. It was a criminally stupid move that fueled more killings and deaths than might have been there without the weapons.
Then there is the problem of the buyers of the illegal drugs themselves. For the purposes of Texas, those buyers are virtually 100% fully-legal American citizens, without whose money and addiction to the drugs both the drug cartel activity and the killings south of the border would not exist in the first place.
With Americans causing much of the problems that drive illegal immigration, a more logical approach to dealing with sanctuary cities, towns and those authorities who align with them might have been to look at the root causes on both sides of the border first. Senate Bill 4, however, with its intent to crush dissent and force compliance with bad law enforcement practices, supports the hard-line view that the immigrants are the ones creating the problems. It also supports that virtually anything, including finding minor crimes to charge people who might be illegal immigrants – and then ‘demanding their papers’ – is the right way to make things better.
It does not help that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, himself with a track record which suggest deep-seated racism in some of his previous activities (such as the support of Alabama’s racist voter ID law), also sees sanctuary cities and counties as having higher crime rates than others. Though the facts do not support what he claims, his statements at a Las Vegas forum on July 12, which he appears to have based on a Fox News summary of a Washington Post story (see the analysis of all that here), have added further fuel to those who see Sanctuary Cities and related officials as a problem.
Unelected President Trump of course added further flames to this argument with his continued hammering on illegal immigrants as a major cause of rising crime across the United States. He started this back when he was just candidate Donald Trump. He was wrong about the issue then and is wrong about it now.
Besides the potential constitutional issues with the new law, there is also a high risk to Texas that trade and tourism, including major conventions that often come to the state, may pull back significantly if the law stays on the books. That previously happened with similar laws which had been in effect in Arizona, as well as with anti-gay legal moves in the state of North Carolina more recently.
Those who disagree with the new law make a sizeable body. At the end of May, multiple protests were held in various locations across the state to protest the law.
Protesting, however, can only do so much. On June 1, San Antonio counterattacked the state with a federal lawsuit against the state of Texas, Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. In that suit, San Antonio said the new law effectively “hijacks” the authority of local government as well as colleges and universities to protect their communities as they see fit. It further attacked the penalties for non-compliance with the law as “draconian”.
In the complaint San Antonio goes on to say that, “While purporting to protect the State of Texas from the negative impact of undocumented immigration, SB 4 robs local jurisdictions of their ability to supervise officers and ensure public safety, and coerces law enforcement to dedicate limited resources to a job that is supposed to be performed and funded by the federal government.” The city asks for a declaratory judgment that the new law violates the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, Contracts Clause, the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The June 1 suit goes on to say that, “By forbidding municipalities and colleges from creating any limiting guidance … untrained and unsupervised local police officers will disproportionately detain foreign-born and Latino individuals, especially those that do not have a Texas driver’s license.” It also points out that the new law’s requirement that local governments must provide assistance to ICE “could result in police officers deciding sua sponte to carry out ‘enforcement assistance’ in sensitive locations, such as schools and funerals, where federal immigration officers will not conduct enforcement”.
The lawsuit also makes the case that Senate Bill 4 will in fact make things worse, not better, when it comes to the supposed real reason for the law – controlling illegal immigration. It says that “San Antonio is convinced that the immigrant community will no longer cooperate with police to the extent they did before SB 4 passed and that SB 4 will discourage immigrants from reporting crimes and participating in health and social service programs, such as WIC”.
San Antonio’s legal representation for this case comes from Mariso Bono of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and San Antonio City Attorney Deborah Lynne Klein.
For the city of Austin, the new state law was just another in a series of direct attacks on its policies to provide some degree of sanctuary within its borders. Attorney General Paxton, in his public statements about Austin’s complicity in protecting illegals, said that the city had denied more detainer requests than another government jurisdiction in the entire United States, for the period from January 28 through February 3. In response to actions like this, Governor Paxton had previously deliberately withheld $1.5 million in state grants from Travis County, where Austin resides and is the county seat.
With that kind of battle behind it, the city of Austin filed its own ‘rifle shot’ on June 2, by joining the lawsuit already filed San Antonio. In announcing the legal action, Austin City Council Member Greg Casar called SB 4 “immoral and unconstitutional”.
Others have also take action against the state on this matter. They include the city of El Paso, El Paso County, the city of El Cenizo, Maverick County, the Workers Defense Project and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). In total, over 11% of the total population of the state, as represented by cities who have filed action against the new law, has lined up against the state of Texas on this.
If none of the lawsuits succeed in at least causing a temporary stay of the action, Senate Bill 4 will go into effect September 1, 2017.
Photo by Matt Rhodes,