Federal judge ruling blow to ‘sanctuary cities’ law

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Says provisions in SB4 create ‘real danger of discriminatory enforcement’

Updated 9:58 pm, Wednesday, August 30, 2017

SAN ANTONIO – In a 94-page ruling, a federal judge Wednesday halted the main provisions of Texas’ ban on “sanctuary cities.”

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio prevents Texas from implementing the most controversial provisions of Senate Bill 4, which created penalties for local governments that prevent police from asking about immigration status or don’t honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bill was scheduled to take effect Friday.

“The best interest of the public will be served by preserving the status quo and enjoining, prior to Sept. 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,” Garcia wrote.

The decision, which can be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, is a blow to one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation.

In order to obtain an injunction, the local governments and organizations challenging the law needed to prove they were harmed by it and likely to succeed in their claim that it is unconstitutional.

“We won over 90 percent of it,” said Luis Vera, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which represented the border city of El Cenizo in the lawsuit. “The state cannot mandate to the cities or police officers or sheriff’s offices how they run their police departments.”

Gov. Greg Abbott said the decision “makes Texas’ communities less safe.”

“U.S. Supreme Court precedent for laws similar to Texas’ law are firmly on our side,” Abbott said in a statement. “This decision will be appealed immediately, and I am confident Texas’ law will be found constitutional and ultimately be upheld.”

The ruling found the plaintiffs made their case and were even helped during oral arguments by the state.

For instance, the judge noted the state “essentially concedes that the irreparable harm requirement is met.”

The judge quoted an argument made by one of the lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office: “The state of Texas concedes, Your Honor, that if Senate Bill 4 is unconstitutional or a provision of it is severed by this court or this court finds it unconstitutional, if it is, and it would violate the constitutional rights of the public, then there is irreparable harm.”

The judge found that certain provisions of SB  4 conflict with, and are pre-empted by, federal law because enforcing SB 4 will interfere with the federal government’s authority to control immigration. The judge also found that enforcing SB 4 will result in First Amendment violations.

The judge also determined that vague prohibitions in SB 4 violate due process and “create a real danger of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

In addition, he found that enforcement of the mandatory detainer provisions “will inevitably lead to Fourth Amendment violations.”

Signed into law in May, SB 4 allows the attorney general to fine or remove from office local officials who “adopt, enforce, or endorse a policy under which the entity or department prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws.” Another provision allows for criminal penalties for officials who don’t honor ICE requests to hold at local jails immigrants suspected of being eligible for deportation.

San Antonio Police Department policy prevents officers from asking about immigration status, which would put it in violation of the law. Bexar County officials said they honor ICE detainers.

The lawsuit was led by the border community of El Cenizo, which along with Maverick County filed a lawsuit in San Antonio challenging SB 4 on May 8, the day after Abbott signed it into law. They were later joined by cities and counties across the state, including San Antonio.

Abbott had made the issue an emergency item for this year’s legislative session, signaling that it’s one of his priorities and allowing lawmakers to vote on it earlier than other bills.

Garcia held a hearing on the injunction in June. While past state immigration laws have been challenged by the Justice Department, the Trump administration has weighed in supporting Texas’ position that the law is constitutional.

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