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Federal judge blocks Texas’ ban on ‘sanctuary cities’

Thursday, August 31, 2017 by Stephanie Federico

A federal court in San Antonio has blocked Senate Bill 4, Texas’ so-called “sanctuary cities” law.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said, “The best interests of the public will be served by preserving the status quo and enjoining, prior to September 1, the implementation and enforcement of those portions of SB 4 that, on their face, are preempted by federal law and violate the United States Constitution.”

Several cities, including Austin, sued to stop the law from going into effect. The bill, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in May, would have required jurisdictions to cooperate with all warrantless federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants booked into local jails. It also would have allowed law enforcement to ask a person’s immigration status during a routine stop.

In February, Abbott canceled $1.5 million in grants to Travis County over the sheriff’s policy limiting cooperation with the federal immigration agency.

The lawsuit said SB 4 violated several provisions of the Constitution, including the rights to equal protection and free speech, and would make cities less safe because immigrants would be afraid to report crimes. Opponents of the bill also called it discriminatory and said it would lead to racial profiling.

Republican lawmakers in Texas have been pushing for an anti-sanctuary cities law for several years. Former governor and current Energy Secretary Rick Perry often campaigned on that platform. But when Arizona passed its controversial law SB 1070, he said the law wasn’t right for Texas.

The Texas House and Senate had different ideas of what should be passed during the 2017 legislative session. The House’s version originally said law enforcement could ask about someone’s immigration status only if that person was under arrest. But during an emotional debate, members of the Texas Freedom Caucus successfully amended the bill to the Senate’s language; it allows officers to ask about immigration status when someone has been detained or arrested.

Democrats call the measure a “show me your papers” law. And even Republican Latino activists have been concerned about its potential effect on the state’s Latino community – and on the GOP’s relationship with that community.

A federal judge earlier this month dismissed a lawsuit filed pre-emptively by Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton had sought a ruling that the controversial bill was constitutional. He has promised to appeal.

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This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/ KUT.

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