Federal Judge Blocks Texas' Controversial Sanctuary Cities Law

Pro-immigration protesters attend the 2017 Dallas Mega March.
Pro-immigration protesters attend the 2017 Dallas Mega March. Elroy Johnson
Major portions of Senate Bill 4, Texas' just-passed "sanctuary cities" bill, will not immediately become law after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia blocked significant portions of it from taking effect.

Garcia's ruling, handed down late Wednesday, stops a portion of the law that would require local law enforcement agencies to comply with federal requests to detain undocumented individuals in police custody. Additionally, Garcia's ruling blocks the portion that would've banned municipalities from creating policies that would make it harder for federal and state authorities to enforce immigration laws. These rules were supposed to take effect Sept. 1.

"There is overwhelming evidence by local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB 4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe," he wrote, agreeing with the state's largest cities, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, all of which are plaintiffs in a suit against the law, saying it will hinder the efforts of local law enforcement and create distrust between Latino communities and local government and police.

Garcia permitted a portion of the law that allows local law enforcement officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain but limits the actions officers can take to inform federal immigration authorities of a person's status.

“If during a lawful detention or arrest an officer obtains information that a detained or arrested individual is undocumented he may not arrest the individual on this basis," Garcia wrote, before adding "[i]n sum, SB 4 gives local officers discretion to inquire and share information, but it does not provide them with discretion to act upon the information that they may obtain," in a footnote to his 94-page decision.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton criticized Garcia's decision to issue an injunction against the law. He's confident the state will win when the lawsuit is fully decided.

"Senate Bill 4 was passed by the Texas Legislature to set a statewide policy of cooperation with federal immigration authorities enforcing our nation’s immigration laws,” Paxton said. “Texas has the sovereign authority and responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens. We’re confident SB 4 will ultimately be upheld as constitutional and lawful.”

Gov. Greg Abbott said Garcia's ruling was dangerous, but that, like Paxton, he's confident the state will win its case when a final decision is issued.

"Because of this ruling, gang members and dangerous criminals, like those who have been released by the Travis County sheriff, will be set free to prey upon our communities," he said. "U.S. Supreme Court precedent for laws similar to Texas’ law are firmly on our side. This decision will be appealed immediately, and I am confident Texas' law will be found constitutional and ultimately be upheld.”

In Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings, a prominent critic of SB 4, said he was pleased with Garcia's ruling on the law, which he considers to be an overreach by the state.

"SB 4 is an unconstitutional, unfunded mandate that would make our city less safe," Rawling said. "We still have a ways to go to defeat this misguided legislation, but the people of Dallas should rest easier knowing that many of the provisions of this overreaching law will not take effect this Friday."

State Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Conference, disputed the claim made by bill proponents that SB 4 is about stopping crime.

"SB 4 was never about making us safer,” Anchia said. “Proponents of SB 4 failed to grasp the detrimental impact this bill will have on every community in Texas. We thank the court for once again stepping in to uphold the Constitution and protect Texans from discrimination.”
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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