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Texas AG Paxton Lauds SB4 Decision in the 5th Circuit

Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for its unanimous decision to allow Texas to enforce core provisions of Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a law designed to crack down on so-called “sanctuary” cities—a label that comes from their refusal to cooperate with the deportation efforts of the federal government.

District Judge Orlando Garcia of Del Rio, Texas had ruled on August 31—a day before SB4 was to be implemented—to block the state’s attempt to ban sanctuary cities. While Texas appeals this lower court ruling, the 5th Circuit affirms the state’s right to detain individuals based on the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer program.

Several of SB4’s provisions are designed to force local departments and law enforcement agencies to cooperate with the feds in their crackdown on undocumented immigrants.  The law forbids all local law enforcement officials, including police chiefs, sheriffs, and even campus police, to prevent immigration officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. The law also penalizes jurisdictions that refuse to comply with federal immigration detainers—requiring law enforcement agencies to detain individuals without local criminal charges for deportation.

Such proposed measures were met with resistance by an alliance of Texas cities and counties branded as sanctuary cities, including Houston, Dallas, and Austin. The coalition sued Texas state on the grounds that SB4 violates the Constitution in multiple ways.

  • The first constitutional concern is that police would be required to detain suspected immigrants without probable cause.
  • Second, local law enforcement would also effectively assume federal authority.
  • Third, SB4 is “unconstitutionally vague” in determining when a local law enforcement officer would be breaking the law.

Paxton issued a statement regarding the decision on September 25, writing: “We are pleased today’s 5th Circuit ruling will allow Texas to strengthen public safety by implementing the key components of Senate Bill 4. … Enforcing immigration law helps prevent dangerous criminals from being released into Texas communities. I am confident Senate Bill 4 will be found constitutional and ultimately upheld.”

Other lawyers are not quite as impressed by the ruling and its implications immigration enforcement. Some have particularly noted that the Court of Appeals decision only allows for the partial implementation of SB4 – that local law enforcement only be required to honor federal immigration detainers – but is still ambiguous in this respect.

According to Nina Perales, an attorney representing the dissenting cities of San Antonio and El Paso, she doesn’t read the decision as making all detainers mandatory.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials against SB4 have no choice but to follow it. Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown and SB4, had previously announced that Travis County jails would not comply with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. However, she has had to retract her statement and express compliance due to the new ruling.

Argumentation over Texas Senate Bill 4 will resume in November.

For further updates on SB4, be sure to follow this blog. If you or anyone you know has been a victim of profiling and questionable detention because of your immigration status, talk to the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices to speak with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.

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