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Federal Judge Blocks Texas' Ban On 'Sanctuary Cities'

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Demonstrators protest against Senate Bill 4 outside the Capitol in April.

A federal court in San Antonio has blocked much of Senate Bill 4, Texas' so-called "sanctuary cities" law.

"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," U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler celebrated the decision.

"This ruling is good for Austin because SB 4 if ever implemented would make Austin less safe," Adler wrote in a statement. "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.”

Several cities, including Austin, suedto 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.

Notably, the judge declined to block a provision that would have allowed law enforcement to ask a person's immigration status during a routine stop.

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

“I am pleased by the Court’s ruling today," Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez wrote in an email. "I believe that local communities are stronger and safer when justice and security are a reality, not for some, but for all. I look forward to the ultimate resolution.”

The lawsuit said SB 4 violated several provisions of the Constitution, including the rights to equal protection and free speech. Opponents also called the bill discriminatory and said it would lead to racial profiling.  

Abbott said the state would immediately appeal the ruling.

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 Hispanic activists have been concerned about its potential effect on the state's Hispanic community – and on the GOP's relationship with that community.

A federal judge earlier this month dismissed a lawsuitfiled 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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