U.S. federal judge Orlando Garcia has blocked the controversial ‘sanctuary cities’ legislation in Texas that would have allowed police to question a person’s immigration status, detain them for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), prohibit policies that limit immigration enforcement, and persecute any law enforcement or government officials that failed to comply with the law.
Key provisions of the law, also known as Senate Bill 4, or SB4, were temporarily blocked on August 30th, two days before it was due to come into effect in a move that both Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have vowed to appeal. A number of Texas cities including Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio joined a lawsuit against the state, stating that SB4 would increase racial profiling and discourage immigrants from reporting crimes to police. SB4 has also been likened to Arizona’s 2010 ‘show me your papers’ immigration law.
Judge Garcia blocked provisions of the law that stated police officials had to detain and hold immigrants for ICE. He also blocked the provisions that prohibited policies (or the endorsement of policies) that limited immigration enforcement by local government officials, agreeing with lawyers who called these sections of the law unconstitutional and a violation of first amendment rights.
The law has also been accused of specifically targeting sanctuary cities, which are cities that limit the assistance they give to federal immigration authorities.
Hurricane Harvey has also only exacerbated fears from immigrants about their immigration status being questioned at shelters, despite assurances from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner that all flood victims would be welcomed at shelters, regardless of their immigration status.
Furthermore, there have been many outspoken critics of the law including police chiefs and officers in major cities in Texas and Latino and civil rights groups. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a travel alert for the state after the bill was signed, and have since applauded Judge Garcia’s decision. Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, praised the court for striking down “virtually all of what was perhaps the harshest anti-immigrant provision in modern times.”
Texas State Governor Greg Abbott, on the other hand, said in a statement that the decision makes “Texas’ communities less safe,” and he believed “the decision will be appealed immediately and I am confident Texas’ law will be found constitutional and ultimately be upheld.”
With that said, President Donald Trump campaigned on a hardline immigration stance and has already attempted to pass a presidential order limiting federal funding for sanctuary cities. However, parts of this order were also struck down by a district judge in San Francisco. Additionally, the Trump administration also plans to soon close the TPS program that was put in place for Haitian immigrants, along with potentially ending the DACA program for undocumented students.
While concerns surrounding immigration are warranted, SB4 only racially profiles people and attempts to infringe on the constitutional rights of citizens and law enforcement officials. It would also increase immigrants’ fear and mistrust of government and police officials and would likely cause more harm than good. Harsher immigration laws and penalties do not necessarily translate directly to safer communities, less illegal immigration, or a decrease in violence, and this disparity needs to be addressed when immigration laws are written.
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