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Senate Bill 4 Threatens Immigrants and Sanctuary Cities

Texas is currently wrestling with the question of how to handle sanctuary areas, which are local governments that have refused to enforce federal immigration violations. This includes refusing to honor federal detainer requests for immigrants being held in local jails for low-level offenses. While the Republican-led state government believes that these locations need to cooperate or face fines and possible removal from office, a U.S. District Court has upheld many of their rights. Sanctuary City Ban Goes to Court

The Battle Over Senate Bill 4

In May of this year, Governor Abbott signed into law a bill that would seek to ban sanctuary cities. Senate Bill 4 allows local police officers to ask for proof of one’s immigration status during routine stops, as well as punish those who refuse to cooperate with federal requests to detain individuals suspected of illegal immigration. These punishments can include jail time and fines of up to $25,000.

Several cities in Texas, including Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, took the bill to court on the grounds that it would violate due process protections in the U.S. Constitution and promote racial profiling against Latinx communities. Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, told the Texas Tribune, “that’s why police chiefs and mayors themselves were among its harshest critics — they recognized it would harm, not help, their communities.”

A Temporary Solution

When it came to the Constitution, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia largely agreed with opponents of SB4. His ruling, decided just days before the law was scheduled to go into effect, eliminated punishments for law enforcement that do not comply with federal immigration officers. His decision included a provision that made it illegal to ‘materially inhibit’ the work of those officers. Another controversial aspect of the law, which gives police the right to ask about immigration status, was permitted on the grounds that it was not an extended detention and therefore did not violate the Fourth Amendment. As a preliminary injunction, his decision is temporary, only putting the bill on hold until its fate can be decided.

Recently, a three-judge panel ruled that certain SB4 provisions are allowed to stand until the 5th Circuit Court can hear arguments and issue a proper ruling. The appeals court temporarily reinstated the detainer provision, although the panel did give some freedom for local officials to deny some detainer requests. The court stated that “the 'comply with, honor, and fulfill' requirement does not require detention pursuant to every ICE detainer request.” The temporary ruling also stated that jails need not honor detainer requests if proof of lawful presence is given.

While the state government extends this fight through the appeal process, it is important that immigrants and families have legal protection and someone on their side to guide them through this uncertain time. Our attorneys are here to help you through any step of your journey. Call us today to schedule a free consultation!

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