Federal judge halts Texas anti-sanctuary law

On Aug. 29, a federal judge in San Antonio issued a preliminary injunction against most of SB4, the anti-Sanctuary Cities law that was set to go into effect two days later. The law would have effectively forced every police agency in Texas to allow its officers to question the immigration status of anyone stopped for any reason. It would have also have forced agencies to send information on undocumented or out-of-status detainees to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those agencies that instructed officers to ignore the law would be subject to large fines, and the heads of those agencies could face firing or even jail. The law would also force police agencies to hold detainees suspected of being undocumented if ICE so requested, even if those people were due to be released or had paid a bond.

SB4, which was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 7, was decried by refugee and immigrant advocates, as well as by police chiefs of several cities, as an open invitation to target the entire Latino community—which represents nearly 40% of the population in Texas. In issuing the preliminary injunction, District Judge Orlando Garcia stated that much of the law violates the United States constitution. The lawsuit challenging SB4 was brought by the small border town of El Cenizo, and later joined by the cities of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio, among others. Amicus briefs in the suit were filed by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, among others. 

Judge Garcia's ruling was hailed as a victory for democracy in many quarters around the state. Michelle Tremillo, director of the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, a non-profit working for immigration reform, said, "We are so  grateful to have courts who protect our rights and freedoms, and keep overzealous legislators in check. SB4 would have encouraged and  legalized racial profiling of Latinos and other communities of color."

Amy Fisher, policy director for the non-profit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Immigration and Legal Services, said, "The issuance of a temporaty injunction confirms what we already knew: that SB4 is an anti-immigrant, anti-democracy law. This is a win for immigrant communities who spoke out and encouraged their elected officials to join the litigation." Fisher added that the battle is a long way from over, however. "Immigrant communities in Texas continue to suffer at the hands of many police forces around the state who voluntarily collude with ICE."

Critics of the measure say fear of being questioned by police over legal status makes undocumented immigrants and sometimes even legal immigrants shy away from reporting crimes or volunteering information about criminal acts, even keeping some parents from taking their children to school. That, in turn, makes a particularly vulnerable group even more vulnerable to being preyed on.

How long the joy will last in the Latino community is uncertain, Texas will, in all probability, appeal the injunction, and the case may ultimately go before the US Supreme Court. (Fort Worth Weekly, Aug. 31)

President Trump's executive order to withhold federal funds from "sanctuary cities" has similarly been halted by the courts, although the US Justice Department has pledged to pursue the policy.