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Federal Judge Issues Partial Block on Sanctuary Cities


Many people throughout the United States were angered and disgusted with Texas Governor Greg Abbott earlier this year when he signed a law (SB 4) establishing criminal and civil penalties for local government entities and law enforcement that don’t comply with immigration laws and detention requests. This move was intended as a ban on sanctuary cities in Texas, or cities that had promised to protect immigrants from persecution. The law also allows police officers to question the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest and threatens officials who violate the law with fines, jail time, and removal from office.

However, yesterday, August 30, 2017, a federal judge in San Antonio, Orlando L. Garcia of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, issued a partial block on Texas from enforcing its ban, questioning the constitutionality of the law. He granted a preliminary injunction preventing part of the law from taking effect. However, the troubling part of the injunction is that only the part that creates repercussions to law enforcement officials has been blocked. The most concerning part of the law relating to “show me your papers” remains in effect. To boil it down, law enforcement can still verify immigration status tomorrow. If a law enforcement officer demand verification, that remains legal. The law enforcement officer is just off the hook and can’t be punished if they fail to. This leaves wider discretion with the officer that comes into contact with the citizen or alien.

Some of the biggest cities in the state, including Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas, joined together to sue Texas for passing the law. All of these cities are Democrat-run, and the law has split between parties, with Republicans largely supporting the bill and Democrats largely decrying it as unconstitutional.

Judge Garcia’s ruling is only temporary and prevents the law from taking effect on Friday, September 1, 2017, which it was set to do. Texas indicated it would appeal the injunction, but the block marks a legal blow to one of the harshest state-issued immigration bills in the country.

This bill was also backed by the current presidential administration, which many people have called anti-Latino and anti-Muslim. The ban is another in a line of presidential-supported measures banned by federal and state injunctions for being unconstitutional.

Judge Garcia’s order will block three provisions of the law, including one that says local government entities and officials may not “adopt, enforce, or endorse” any policy limiting the enforcement of immigration laws. The lawyers who are arguing for the suit claim prohibiting local officials from supporting a viewpoint violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protecting freedom of speech and beliefs.

According to Judge Garcia, SB 4 targets and seeks to punish speakers based on their viewpoint on local immigration enforcement policy, which isn’t something that can be banned by law. He also stated the provision banning policies that limit enforcement of immigration laws was unconstitutionally vague and failed to define the expressly prohibited conducts. The vagueness of the law invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against officials who may be disliked by the people who report them, which is potentially dangerous.

Because Texas plans to appeal the block, the case will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, one of the most conservative appeals panels in the country. Those who support it believe the precedent set by a Supreme Court ruling in 2012 upholding part of a similar law in Arizona will likely also render the law constitutional.

If you’re concerned about how this law might affect you, talk to one of our skilled Dallas immigration attorneys today. Mathur Law Offices, P.C. has spent more than 15 years assisting Texas residents with their immigration needs. Our founding attorney, Sanjay S. Mathur, understands and can empathize with immigrants to the United States. Whether you need help applying for a visa or would like to become a naturalized citizen, let us help.

Contact us at (888) 867-5191 or fill out our online form to schedule a case evaluation today.