A federal judge blocked a law allowing police to ask about people’s immigration status — even during routine interactions like traffic stops — just two days before it was set to take effect across the state of Texas. SB 4, referred to by critics as the “sanctuary cities” ban, was set to go into effect Friday, but its central provisions are now on hold indefinitely.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia found that it was possible that opponents of the law — which includes the ACLU and several Democratically-leaning cities like Houston, Austin, and San Antonio— would be able to show in court that the ban could violate several sections of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
SB 4 would have created criminal penalties for law enforcement officers who don’t honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detainer requests,” which occurs when the agency asks a county jail to hold suspected undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours to enable ICE agents to pick them up. (So-called “sanctuary cities” generally don’t comply with these requests.) It would have also allowed immigration agents to ask about the immigration status of anybody they detained, which led opponents of SB 4 to dub it a “show me your papers” law.
“Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt, said in a statement. “That’s why police chiefs and mayors themselves were among its harshest critics — they recognized it would harm, not help, their communities.”
Even though the law won’t take effect as planned, that hasn’t stopped it from sowing confusion in Houston in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. Though several elected officials have publicly said that undocumented immigrants would not be asked about their immigration status — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner even pledged to personally defend people in court — fears about being detained and deported endured among the city’s undocumented community.
“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,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who championed the law, said in a statement, vowing to continue to fight for it in court.