A federal judge slammed the brakes Wednesday on much of Texas’ “sanctuary cities” ban, the draconian anti-immigrant law that was set to take effect on Friday. In his ruling granting a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia iced provisions that would have made immigration detainers mandatory, let untrained police act as immigration agents and barred local officials from criticizing cooperation between police and immigration agents.
“The court was right to strike down virtually all of this patently unconstitutional law,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney who helped argue the case. “Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe.”
Garcia did not block the law’s controversial “show me your papers” provision, which critics have said will lead to racial profiling. That measure will force law enforcement leaders to allow cops to ask about immigration status during routine detentions, for anything from speeding to jaywalking.
Advocates, however, say there’s no need to panic.
“Every person in Texas regardless of their status, can and should refuse to answer any questions from a local police officer or sheriff’s deputy about immigration status,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, on Thursday. “A police officer can do nothing in response to a refusal to answer those questions.”
Representatives of Austin’s Workers Defense Project and La Union Del Pueblo Entero, an organization based in San Juan, said they’d be holding workshops to help immigrants understand those rights.
The ruling is a victory for the many cities, counties and organizations who joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs against SB 4. It halts most of the law from taking effect while arguments over its constitutionality play out. Governor Greg Abbott has already promised an appeal.
Garcia made an elegant case for why he was putting the brakes on the provision punishing local officials for “endorsing” any policy that limits cooperation with immigration agents.
“Free and open debate on matters of public concern is a cornerstone of democracy and the core value protected by the First Amendment,” he wrote. “Censoring officials would disserve the public interest and create a serious disconnect between local officials and the communities they serve.”
He called Texas’ attempt to defend the provision “meager,” and chided the bill’s author, Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, for “struggl[ing]” to define the meaning of “endorse” when pressed by Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, on the Senate floor in February.
Garcia also halted the law’s provision that would mandate compliance with immigration detainers — requests to keep a suspected undocumented immigrant in jail so they can be deported. The requests will remain optional. And he froze a provision that would let untrained cops routinely “provid[e] enforcement assistance” at the behest of immigration agents.
Garcia affirmed plaintiffs’ argument that: “Texas cannot simply offer up local enforcement officials to routinely perform immigration enforcement and bypass the training, supervision, and certification requirements that Congress has established.”
The governor’s Twitter account also makes an appearance in the ruling.
“In a Twitter post written days before SB 4 was reported out of committee,” Garcia noted, “Governor Greg Abbott linked his designation of ‘banning sanctuary cities’ as an emergency item with a promise that ‘Texas will hammer Travis County.’”
Citing that tweet, Garcia halted all provisions that would punish officials for “materially limiting” immigration enforcement, arguing that phrase’s vagueness would let Texas capriciously punish “disfavored localities.”
Immigrant advocates immediately hailed Garcia’s ruling.
“I’m thankful for everyone who has fought Senate Bill 4 every step of the way,” said Austin City Council member Greg Casar, referring to the thousands of Texans who testified and protested against the law this year. “Today, we should celebrate the power of the statewide movement we have built together.”
Saenz said he expects the court to address the claims it did not touch in Wednesday’s decision, including whether SB 4 was passed with racist intent and whether it violates the Texas Constitution.
“Our view is at the end of the day, the entirety of SB 4 will be struck down as unconstitutional,” Saenz said.