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Thursday, April 27, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Adler: Challenge to state’s sanctuary cities law ‘almost a certainty’

The state’s proposed sanctuary cities legislation faces an almost certain and likely quick challenge in court, Mayor Steve Adler said Wednesday after returning from his trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue with federal law enforcement officials.

The Texas House of Representatives’ debate late into Wednesday ahead of a vote on its version of the law – the Senate’s passed in February – means cities across Texas could soon face tougher state requirements on cooperating with federal agencies aggressively enforcing immigration laws. Gov. Greg Abbott has voiced his support of regulations on so-called sanctuary cities, and he is expected to sign a reconciled bill into law soon.

Adler said that his meeting earlier this week with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made him confident that Austin is not violating the requirements outlined in a January presidential executive order targeting cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

“The state legislation would potentially require us to do things in our community that we’ve said we don’t want to do, because it makes us less safe,” Adler said. “If the state law passes I’m certain the (Travis County) sheriff would comply as she has taken a sworn oath to do, but I also anticipate (the law) would be challenged. That issues comes down to decision by City Council, but it’s almost a certainty that it would be challenged.”

While Sessions and other law enforcement officials didn’t explicitly say Austin is legally safe in its current practices concerning immigration enforcement efforts, Adler said the specific requirement of the law that focuses on sharing of information doesn’t make Austin a “sanctionable” city that could potentially lose federal funding.

The state’s law would expand the immigration-enforcement abilities of local police officers and punish local entities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials. The bill would also subject local law enforcers to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold non-citizen inmates subject to removal.

As of press time, the House was still debating amendments to the bill. The hours-long debate included the passionate discussion of an ultimately successfully amendment that would allow officers to question the immigration status of those they have detained – as opposed to only those who have been arrested.

“Attorney General Sessions made clear, as did the acting director of (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), that the president’s executive order only dealt with the statute on communication, and as long as cities don’t violate that statute we won’t wind up on that sanctioned list and we won’t be affected by federal funding,” Adler said.

“My recollection is people said the sheriff violated federal law and we needed to get her back in line. Now we know the sheriff did not violate any law. So now the state law wants to make mandatory what the federal law says is voluntary, and makes sanctionable something the federal government said is not enforceable. The state bill goes beyond federal law, and I question the wisdom and legality of that,” he continued.

Adler could get some help in his position on the issue, since a California judge on Wednesday temporarily froze President Donald Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities, because he found that it could be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Photo by Kumar Appalah made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Mayor Steve Adler: Mayor of the city of Austin, elected in November 2014

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Texas State Legislature

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