Appeals Court Lets Texas Enforce More Parts of 'Sanctuary Cities' Ban

by | September 25, 2017

By Mike Ward

Local police across Texas will have to honor federal detainers for people who are in the country illegally, a federal appeals court ruled Monday in allowing some parts of Texas' controversial new  "show me your papers" law to temporarily take effect.

But in a six-page decision, three judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left in effect a lower-court injunction blocking other parts of the law that would penalize local authorities for adopting policies that would "materially limit" immigration enforcement.

The mixed findings ensure the controversy will grind on for weeks or longer in Texas, where protests against the new law have been common for months.

The appeals court on Nov. 6 is scheduled to hear arguments from Houston, San Antonio and other cities, counties and Hispanic groups who claim the law is unconstitutional.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had asked the appeals court last Friday to allow the full law to take effect, insisted Monday's ruling was a victory.

"We are pleased today's 5th Circuit ruling will allow Texas to strengthen public safety by implementing the key components of Senate Bill 4," Paxton said in a statement after the 3-0 decision was filed Monday morning.

"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," he added.

In its decision, the court noted on Monday that that the state is "likely to succeed" on some of its arguments that the new law is constitutional.

Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 4 to allow local law enforcement to cooperate with the federal government in enforcing the nation's immigration laws. But a U.S. District Court in San Antonio granted an injunction on Senate Bill 4 on Aug. 30, just two days before it was scheduled to take effect.

In that order, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia had blocked the state from enforcing or implementing five key parts of the law, ruling they are likely unconstitutional. The state had asked the New Orleans-based appeals court to overrule the district court until the case is argued in court in November.

The state on Friday had asked the appeals court to allow it to begin enforcing the provisions of the new law, called Senate Bill 4 after the title of the legislation that was signed into law in June.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, an Austin-based group that represents two groups of the groups that filed the case, said the Monday decision could cause unnecessary turmoil because it did not leave all parts of the lower-court order in effect.

"We are disappointed and disagree with the panel's decision to allow additional provisions of SB4 to go into effect and stand against Texas immigrants and families," said Efren Olivares, racial and economic program director with the civil rights group. "

TCRP represents the Texas Project Organizing Education Fund and MOVE San Antonio, and is partnering with attorneys representing El Paso officials.

The cities of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and El Cenizo, along with Bexar, Travis and Maverick counties and several Hispanic organizations, filed the court challenge to the new law.

Jose Garza, a San Antonio lawyer representing El Paso County in the suit, said he thinks it allows local jails some leeway about when they honor detainer requests. Various counties have differing policies with regards to the detainers.

"There is no jurisdiction that I know of" with a blanket policy, Garza said.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a leading voice for Latino civil rights, attributed Texas' request for a fast ruling by the appeals court -- before it hears arguments -- to"mean-spiritedness of Texas state officials."

"While that is a disappointment, the court only lifted two portions of the injunction. Because the court panel limited the scope of local police cooperation with enforcement that must be permitted, one portion of the stay would be of limited effect," Saenz said.

Among those who are suing to overturn the new is Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, whose refusal to honor the detainers touched off a high-profile fight with Gov. Greg Abbott that sparked the drive by conservative Republicans to enact SB4 over the objections Democrats and Hispanic leaders.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus that has opposed SB4 as discriminatory and unconstitutional, said the court did not approve a provision allowing the state to punish cities and counties for limiting their officers on immigration questioning and providing enforcement assistance to federal immigration authorities.

"We trust our local police -- and not state politicians -- to keep us safe. The court's decision today recognizes those concerns and stops the most dangerous provisions contained in SB4 from taking effect," said Anchia, a Dallas Democrat. "The fight is not over, however. We will continue to resist any law that aims to divide our great state and makes our constituents less safe."

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, an Austin Democrat who is MALC's policy chair, expressed disappointment with the decision.

"No part of SB4 should be allowed to take effect before its legality has been affirmed by the courts or the law has been struck down as the trial court deemed likely," he said. "SB4 is unlike any legislation currently on the books in Texas or elsewhere in the nation, and experts have serious reservations regarding its infringement upon the freedom of speech and the right to due process under the law.

"If the court allows the state's delay tactics to succeed, it will further normalize Texas Republicans' dysfunctional one-party rule and condemn Texas Latinos to living under a cloud of uncertainty and fear," Rodriguez said.

(c)2017 the Houston Chronicle