Federal judge blocks Texas’ tough “sanctuary cities” law

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked most of Texas’ tough new “sanctuary cities” law that would have let police officers ask people during routine stops whether they’re in the U.S. legally and threatened sheriffs with jail time for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities. 

The law, known as Senate Bill 4, had been cheered by President Trump’s administration and was set to take effect Friday. It was widely viewed as the toughest immigration measure in the nation since Arizona passed what critics called a “Show Me Your Papers” law in 2010, which was later partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio was handed down as anxieties about immigration enforcement in Texas have again flared in the wake of Harvey. Houston officials have sought to assure families fleeing the rising floodwaters in the nation’s fourth-largest city that shelters would not ask for their immigration status.

Houston police Chief Art Acevedo, an outspoken critic of the law, got word of the decision while standing inside a downtown convention center where about 10,000 people have sought shelter. He high-fived another officer.

“We needed a break. That’s a break for us,” said Acevedo, whose department has conducted thousands of high-water rescues and lost one officer who died in floodwaters as he tried to drive to work.

Art Acevedo speaks at prayer service at St. David’s Episcopal Church following a deadly car accident at the South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival (SXSW) on March 13, 2014 in Austin, Texas.

Michael Buckner / Getty Images

The measure sailed through the Republican-controlled Legislature despite months of protests and opposition from business groups, which worried that it could cause a labor-force shortage and send a negative economic message. Leading the lawsuit were Texas’ largest cities – including Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin – in a state where the Hispanic population has grown at a pace three times that of whites since 2010.

Garcia wrote in his 94-page ruling that Texas’ law was pre-empted by existing federal statute and therefore unconstitutional.

The judge noted that when it was being considered in public legislative hearings, only eight people testified in favor of it while 1,600 “showed up to oppose it.” He also wrote there “is overwhelming…

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