In Texas, the fight over a new law known as Senate Bill 4 has raged for more than a year
By Paul J. Weber
AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas immigration crackdown on
"sanctuary cities" took effect Tuesday after a federal appeals court
upheld a divisive law backed by the Trump administration that threatens
elected officials with jail time and allows police officers to ask
people during routine stops whether they're in the U.S. illegally.
ruling was a blow to Texas' biggest cities —including Houston, Dallas
and San Antonio — that sued last year to prevent enforcement of what
opponents said is now the toughest state-level immigration measure on
the books in the U.S.
But for the Trump administration, the decision by the 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is a victory against measures
seen as protecting immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Last week,
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sued California over its so-called
sanctuary state law.
In Texas, the fight over a new law known as
Senate Bill 4 has raged for more than a year, roiling the
Republican-controlled Legislature and once provoking a near-fistfight
between lawmakers in the state capitol. It set off racially-charged
debates, backlash from big-city police chiefs and rebuke from the
government in Mexico, which is Texas' largest trading partner and shares
close ties to the state.
Since 2010, the Hispanic population in Texas has grown at a pace three times that of white residents.
of discrimination were rejected. Law is in effect," Republican Gov.
Greg Abbott tweeted after the ruling was published.
A major focal
point of the Texas law is the requirement for local authorities to
cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, or risk
jail time if they don't. Police chiefs, sheriffs and constables could
also face removal from office for failing to comply with such federal
One sheriff Abbott had in his sights was
Travis County's Sally Hernandez, an elected Democratic who runs Austin's
jails. Last year, Hernandez announced on the day Donald Trump was
sworn-in that her department would no longer comply with all detainer
requests, a decision Republicans repeatedly pointed to in their defense
of the measure.
"Words just can't express how disappointed I am
with this ruling," Hernandez said. But she said her department would
follow the law as directed by the courts.
The Texas law is often
slammed by opponents as a near-copycat of Arizona's "Show Me Your
Papers" law in 2010, but the two measures are not identical. Whereas the
Arizona law originally required police to try to determine the
immigration status of people during routine stops, the Texas bill
doesn't instruct officers to ask.
U.S. Circuit Judge Edith Jones
wrote in the court's opinion that the Arizona law — which was partially
blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court — was more "problematic" because it
mandated the questions during traffic stops. She added that no
suspicion, reasonable or not, is required to ask questions off
"It would be wrong to assume that SB4 authorizes unreasonable conduct where the statute's text does not require it," she said.
the Texas law remains worse in "a lot of respects," said Lee Gelernt,
an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped lead
the lawsuit against SB4. He said they were still deciding their next
steps following the ruling, which could include asking the full appeals
court to reconsider. Until then, Gelernt said they will closely watch
how Texas implements the law.
Police chiefs across Texas said the
law will create a chilling effect that will cause immigrant families to
not report crimes or come forward as witnesses over fears that talking
to local police could lead to deportation. Critics also fear it will
lead to the racial profiling of Hispanics and put officers in an
Last year, Mexico's foreign ministry expressed
concern that the law could trample on the rights of Mexican citizens
who choose to live just across the border.
But the law was
enthusiastically backed by the Trump administration, which had joined
Texas in court to defend the measure. Sessions has blamed sanctuary city
policies for crime and gang violence, and announced in July that cities
and states could only receive certain grants if they cooperate with
Sessions is now targeting California, which
passed sanctuary laws in response to the president's promises to ramp up
the deportation of people in the U.S. illegally.
Below is a statement from Sheriff Hernandez in reaction to
the Court of Appeals SB4 ruling:
“Words just can’t express how
disappointed I am with this ruling. We are reviewing the Court’s opinion to
determine any additional steps that need to be taken. We will continue to
follow the law as provided to us by the courts in this matter and we will rise
to the challenge of keeping Travis County safe, although our ability to
overcome fear and foster cooperation within the immigrant community is a
greater challenge now. “