Appeals Court Upholds Majority of Texas Anti-Sanctuary Law

By Alfonso Serrano Mar 14, 2018

A federal appeals court Tuesday (March 14) upheld most of a Texas law that targets "sanctuary" cities by allowing law enforcement officials to ask detainees about their immigration status and punishing government officials who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

The ruling by the Fifth United States Circuit Court of Appeals reverses an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. That decision blocked most of Senate Bill 4 (SB4), which also threatens uncooperative law enforcement officials with removal from office and criminal charges. Garcia concluded that the law would likely be found unconstitutional. He added that the measure would result in increased racial profiling and the deterioration of public trust between immigrant communities and police forces.

"Local officials and the Hispanic community anticipate racial profiling and increased frequency of ICE raids, which are tied to the objectives of SB 4," wrote judge Garcia. "Trust between local law enforcement and the people they serve, which police departments have worked so hard to promote, will be substantially eroded and result in increased crime rates."

In the latest ruling, the three-judge panel blocked one provision of the law that punishes local officials for "endorsing" policies that limit enforcement of immigration laws. "The plaintiffs have not made a showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of any of their constitutional claims" except for the "endorse" provision against elected officials, wrote judge Edith Jones.

The appeals court ruling represents a triumph for the Trump administration, which has aggressively targeted sanctuary jurisdictions for not cooperating with federal immigration officials. 

Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued California over three laws that grant protections to immigrants with undocumented status, including prohibiting private employers from working with immigration officials and restricting cooperation between local police officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. 

In January, the DOJ threatened 23 jurisdictions with subpoenas and the loss of federal grant money unless they proved cooperation with ICE officials before February 23. There has been no update from the Trump administration on the status of those subpoenas.

On Tuesday, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which represents some of the plaintiffs in the SB4 case, said it will continue to fight the Texas measure.

"While it is disappointing that these three judges of the Fifth Circuit could not discern the many inherent and unconstitutional defects in the language and in the enactment of the extremely ill-advised SB 4, we note that this is a panel decision on a preliminary injunction," MALDEF said in a statement. "Thus, there remain opportunities to develop the claims against SB 4 before any final decision in the case."

In recent years, several states have attempted to regulate immigration policy. Arizona’s 2010 immigration measure, SB 1070, aimed to prevent undocumented immigration by requiring police officers to determine the immigration status of detainees and making it a crime for immigrants to fail to carry government identification.

Although the Supreme Court struck down most of its provisions, the measure spurred copycat laws in other states, including Alabama, where HB 56 called on schools to check the immigration status of its students and police were required to arrest suspected immigration violators. Federal courts struck down most of the Alabama law’s provisions, but not before immigrants of undocumented status fled the state en masse.