5th Circuit Upholds Sanctuary Cities Law

ACLU in response: "All legal options" on the table

State House Democrats at a press conference denouncing Senate Bill 4 last May
State House Democrats at a press conference denouncing Senate Bill 4 last May (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday (Tuesday) that the bulk of Texas’ anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 can stay in place for now. The ruling overturns a San Antonio judge’s order that found parts of the law unconstitutional in August.

Passed during the 2017 legislative session, the law seeks to punish so-called “sanctuary cities” by slapping local officials with hefty fines and possible jail time if they don’t comply with ICE detainers – federal requests to hold an inmate for possible deportation. It additionally allows police officers to ask for proof of citizenship of those they detain or arrest, which could to racial profiling. Local leaders can also be penalized for “adopting, enforcing, or endorsing” policies that limit immigration enforcement laws; however the three-judge panel on the 5th Circuit allowed a block on punishment for “endorsing” against those policies.

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, a bull's-eye for legislators targeting sanctuary cities due to her previous limited cooperation with ICE, said in a statement: “Words just can’t express how disappointed I am with this ruling. We are reviewing the Court’s opinion to determine any additional steps that need to be taken.

“We will continue to follow the law as provided to us by the courts in this matter and we will rise to the challenge of keeping Travis County safe, although our ability to overcome fear and foster cooperation within the immigrant community is a greater challenge now.”

The ruling has not come as a complete shock, considering both the conservative nature of the New Orleans-based appellate court and its previous three-judge panel’s ruling in September that similarly upheld most portions of the law. Attorneys and advocates stressed they would continue to fight SB 4 in and out of the courtroom. Lee Gelernt, the deputy director with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrant’s Rights Project, said the organization is “exploring all legal options” going forward. “The court made clear that we remain free to challenge the manner in which the law is implemented, so we will be monitoring the situation on the ground closely,” said Gelernt.

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Sally Hernandez, Senate Bill 4

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