Texas AG Paxton Preemptively Sues to Protect Sanctuary City Bill

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton preemptively filed suit Monday afternoon to protect Senate Bill 4, the state's controversial "sanctuary cities" legislation. Paxton filed the suit under the federal Declaratory Judgment Act "so that the constitutionality of SB 4 may be resolved throughout Texas in a single court."

The state leadership is challenging the very law it championed. On Sunday night, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 4 on Facebook Live instead of in front of an audience. Immediately after the signing, opponents of the bill indicated they would challenge the bill, which they regard as an imminent threat to the state's Latino population, in court.

Abbott, Paxton and other supporters of the bill claim that the legislation is necessary to protect Texas from undocumented criminals who local law enforcement officials might otherwise release from jail. “SB 4 is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” Paxton said. “SB 4 guarantees cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement to protect Texans. Unfortunately, some municipalities and law enforcement agencies are unwilling to cooperate with the federal government and claim that SB 4 is unconstitutional.”

“Texas has its own ‘show me your papers’ law, thanks to Governor Greg Abbott," state Representative Eddie Rodriguez said Sunday night. “When Governor Abbott signed SB 4 tonight, he also signed a blank check on the taxpayer's’ behalf to protect yet another blatantly discriminatory law." 

In several of the state's largest counties, including Dallas, sheriff's have issued policies reforming the way their offices deal with detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for low-level offenses. To date, neither Dallas nor Travis County, both of which have been targeted as "sanctuary counties" by Abbott, have turned down an ICE request for detainer.

"As governor, my top priority is public safety, and this bill furthers that objective by keeping dangerous criminals off our streets," Abbott said in a press release. "It's inexcusable to release individuals from jail that have been charged with heinous crimes like sexual assault against minors, domestic violence and robbery."

In addition to requiring that municipalities honor all ICE requests for detention, SB 4 also provides for the removal of local elected officials who fail to cooperate with federal immigration officials, and allows local law enforcement to ask questions about the immigration status of those they arrest or detain – such as during a traffic stop.

That last provision is the most controversial. Once the law goes into effect on September 1, the law will "encourage racial profiling by untrained immigration agents," according to a statement from the ACLU of Texas. "This is not the Texas I know," Terri Burke, the group's executive director, said in a release. "This racist and wrongheaded piece of legislation ignores our values, imperils our communities and sullies our reputation as a free and welcoming state."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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