Texas Cities Plan Legal Fight Against Anti-Sanctuary Law

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Democratic politicians from several major Texas cities said they will band together to challenge the state’s anti-sanctuary cities law, starting what could become a protracted court battle over the controversial measure.

Elected officials announced they are exploring legal options against Senate Bill 4 (SB4) at a rally outside the state capitol building Tuesday, ABC affiliate KVUE reported. The recently enacted law bans sanctuary cities throughout Texas and allows police to ask about suspects’ immigration status.

Austin City Council Member Delia Garza promised quick action against SB4, which goes into effect September 1.

“This Thursday we are poised to approve a resolution that directs our city legal team to take any legal action necessary to challenge this awful law,” she told the crowd.

The plan comes in response to a preemptive state lawsuit lodged against Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and all of Austin’s City Council members. The state action, which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed earlier in May, seeks to block constitutional challenges to SB4 from potential opponents of the law, including immigrant rights groups. (RELATED: Texas Files Lawsuit Against Potential Opponents Of New Anti-Sanctuary Law)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law on May 8 during a surprise Facebook live broadcast. The law is the nation’s first that bans sanctuary jurisdictions and prescribes jail time for police chiefs and county sheriffs that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Its most controversial provision allows police officers to inquire about the immigration status of people they detain, including the subjects of traffic stops.

Supporters of the law say it protects the public from criminal aliens while providing ample protection for civil liberties. John Wittman, Gov. Abbot’s press secretary, admonished Democratic lawmakers for “fear-mongering” about what SB4 actually allows.

“The law does not require mandatory immigration checks, it simply prohibits local Sheriffs from banning law enforcement officials from inquiry into the immigration status of persons already lawfully detained,” Wittman told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.

“Contrary to the suggestions of sanctuary city advocates like Mayor Adler, the law specifically safeguards witnesses of a crime and victims of a crime, and specifically outlaws racial profiling,” he added.

Officials from Austin, Dallas, Houston, El Paso County and San Antonio are weighing options to contest SB4, possibly by assisting Austin in a defense against the state lawsuit or suing the state outright in a “joint” effort, the Austin American Statesman reported.

“Next week out in the Dallas City Council, we will be discussing intervening in the case, coming to the aid of Austin,” said Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston. “Because we have a large city attorney’s office, we have a lot of resources and the fight is now in the court and it’s time to all stand together.”

Some officials have couched their opposition to SB4 in terms of public safety, claiming that making local police officers enforce federal immigration law will tax scarce law enforcement resources, reports KVUE. Kingston says the law will have the opposite effect on public safety than its sponsors intend.

“We can’t actually answer all the calls for police help that we’re getting right now,” Kingston said. “We’re in a public safety crisis and the governor is making my city less safe. I can’t have that.”

Others worry that giving local police additional authority to ask about immigration status will lead to racial profiling and drive a wedge between law enforcement and immigrant communities. San Antonio City Council Member Rey Saldana told the crowd in Austin that SB4 is an attack on the “defenseless,” warning that “if you attempt to paint and profile members of my community as criminals, we will fight back.”

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