Tom Dart, The Guardian, August 30, 2017
A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction that blocks key parts of Texas’s ban on so-called sanctuary cities two days before the law was scheduled to go into effect.
The decision from judge Orlando Garcia on Wednesday is a victory for immigration rights advocates and a potential blow for other Republican-led states that may be keen to follow Texas – as well as for the Trump administration, which has vowed to crack down on sanctuary cities.
Coming against the backdrop of Hurricane Harvey, the judge’s ruling will be a welcome boost for the state’s large population of undocumented immigrants. There were concerns that some of those affected by the storm’s widespread flooding had stayed away from shelters or avoided asking for help because they feared that interactions with law enforcement could be a prelude to deportation.
Rumours spread that evacuees were being asked for immigration documentation at shelters, which the city denied on Tuesday in a tweet, writing: “We will not ask for immigration status or papers at any shelter.”
Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said on Monday that he would personally offer assistance to any immigrants detained after seeking emergency aid.
“If you need help and someone comes and they require help, and then for some reason, then somebody tries to deport them, I will represent them myself, okay?” he said.
However, Jose Irvinaldama, 23, a trainee pastry chef who found shelter at Houston’s convention centre, said he knew undocumented Latinos who had stayed away lest shelter staff demand papers: “They were worried. They stayed at home.”
Enrique Martinez, an office administrator who also sheltered at the convention centre, said he had heard rumours about Latinos being asked for documents. The rumours turned out to be untrue but some believed them, he said.
The law, known as SB4, was “one of the most extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Latino pieces of legislation in the country,” Jolt, an Hispanic political activism group, said in a statement hailing the judge’s ruling.
“SB4 sought to force local law enforcement to carry out President Donald Trump’s mass deportation agenda, opened the door to the racial profiling of Latinos who make up 40% of our state’s population, and [would] allow the removal of democratically elected officials from office just for speaking out against the law.”
The US justice department filed a “statement of interest” backing the law. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said in a statement that “Texas has admirably followed [Trump’s] lead by mandating state-wide cooperation with federal immigration laws that require the removal of illegal aliens who have committed crimes”.
But Judge Garcia found that most portions of SB4 “on their face, are preempted by federal law and violate the United States constitution.”
Though he limited his 94-page ruling to the question of whether SB4 was constitutional, Garcia noted that “there is overwhelming evidence by local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighbourhoods less safe. There is also ample evidence that localities will suffer adverse economic consequences.”
Plaintiffs in the case included five of Texas’ six biggest cities – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso – as well as the tiny border outpost of El Cenizo.
“At the end of the day, the legislature is free to ignore the pleas of city and county officials, along with local police departments,” Garcia wrote. “However, the state may not exercise its authority in a manner that violates the United States constitution.”
The case is likely to be appealed by Texas and may end up in the US supreme court. The attorney general, Ken Paxton, said in a statement that he would “continue fighting for Senate bill 4” and is “confident SB4 will ultimately be upheld as constitutional and lawful”.
Demonstrations had been scheduled in Austin for the end of the week and large groups of protesters agitated against the law, known as SB4, outside the federal courthouse in San Antonio in June, where Garcia heard from civil rights groups who argued that the measure violates the US constitution’s free speech and equal protection clauses and wrongfully inserts the state into a federal sphere.
SB4 was signed into law in May by Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, amid fierce opposition from Democrats in the state’s liberal-leaning cities and Latino rights groups who dubbed it a “show me your papers” plan that invites racial profiling.
It was scheduled to begin on 1 September and permit local law enforcement officers to ask the immigration status of people they detained or arrested, a provision Garcia left intact, though he said officers could share details, for example with immigration and customs enforcement, but could not themselves “act upon the information they may obtain”.
SB4 also outlaws sanctuary cities – a loose term generally used to describe areas that limit co-operation with immigration agents – by criminalising and fining local officials and entities who do not comply with requests to hold jailed immigrants beyond their normal release times so they can be picked up by federal officers and potentially deported. Its backers describe it as a measure to keep dangerous criminals off the streets and ensure consistent and efficient co-operation between local and federal law enforcement.
Economic boycotts of Texas were advocated in Dallas earlier this summer during a conference of elected Latino officials from around the country, while the American Immigration Lawyers Association said it was moving its 2018 conference out of the Dallas area in protest at SB4.
“This decision today feels like a ray of sunshine,” the Texas Organizing Project, a community group, said in a statement, “and Texans, especially undocumented Texans, deserve a reprieve in what has been a steady assault on their families.”