Federal District Court has had their say on SB4, the controversial anti-sanctuary city law passed by the Texas Legislature, and injunction it is–even if only temporarily.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia ruled last Wednesday that the provision banning policies that limit enforcement of immigration laws was unconstitutionally vague and failed to define the specific prohibited conduct.
According to the 94-page decision handed down by the Court, similar provisions “ascribes criminal and quasi-criminal penalties based upon violations of an inscrutable standard, in a manner that invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against disfavored localities.”
SB4 prohibits cities and counties from adopting policies that limit immigration enforcement, allows police officers to question the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest and threatens officials who violate the law with fines, jail time and removal from office. It also directs local officials to cooperate with so-called immigration detainer requests, which allow foreign-born detainees to be transferred to federal custody after they are released from state or local custody.
San Antonio joined Austin, Houston, Dallas and El Paso in opposing the law with the matter coming to head with MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filing the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of the City of San Antonio, the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project and La Union Del Pueblo Entero.
As expected, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was quick to note an appeal was already in the works in a statement released by his office.
“U.S. Supreme Court precedent for laws similar to Texas’ law are firmly on our side,” said Gov. Abbott in a statement. “This decision will be appealed immediately and I am confident Texas’ law will be found constitutional and ultimately upheld. Because of this ruling, dangerous criminals…will be set free to prey upon our communities.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg hailed the ruling a victory for “common sense” citing that it was an overreach by the state to be punitive against any city that does not share Gov. Abbott’s perspective on immigration.
“I’m angry at the most egregious overreach of the state government yet,” said Mayor Nirenberg. “This flies in the face of our democratic values of self-governance and separation of powers. The notion that local elected officials could be removed from offices to which they were elected by their constituents is disturbing.”
Judge Garcia upheld the law’s provision that police officers can ask about the immigration status of those they detain or arrest. But he blocked the provision mandating that local jurisdictions comply with immigration detainer requests from the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency.
Despite efforts by the Democratic minority in the Texas Legislature to defeat SB4, the proposed date of the law of September 1 was narrowly avoided by Judge Garcia’s ruling. Among the main opponents of the legislation was Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) who called the decision “well-written and well-reasoned.”
“I hope the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lets Judge Garcia’s decision stand as far the temporary injunction,” said the Congressman. “I think punitive actions by the state against cities not enforcing SB4 is an indication of the degeneration of our civic dialogue to criminalize those who don’t share your anti-immigrant hysteria.”
Congressman Doggett went further to note that such actions were little more than intimidation tactics of law enforcement entities across the state such as Sheriff Sally Hernandez of Travis County who was potentially facing criminal sanctions for her opposition to SB4.
Even though Texas State Attorney General Ken Paxton is confident Judge Garcia’s ruling will be reversed, San Antonio’s City Attorney Andy Segovia released a statement affirming that cooperation with the state has been met to a point.
“The city and the San Antonio Police Department have cooperated and will continue to cooperate with federal law enforcement’s reasonable requests. However, SB4 attempted to remove any discretion from local law enforcement in how to best serve the residents of San Antonio,” noted Segovia.
While the decision to make the injunction permanent is yet to be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court, the fate of “Sanctuary Cities” hangs in the balance as does those locales that have long since been considered immigrant friendly.