Federal judge blocks Texas’ tough ‘sanctuary cities’ law

A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked most of Texas‘ tough new “sanctuary cities” law that would have allowed police to inquire about people’s immigration status during routine interactions such as traffic stops.

The law, SB 4, had been cheered by President Donald Trump’s administration but decried by immigrants’ rights groups who say it could force anyone who looks like they might be in the country illegally to “show papers.”

The measure sailed through the Republican-controlled Legislature despite months of protests and opposition from business groups who worried that it could cause a labor-force shortage in industries such as construction. Opponents sued, arguing it violated the U.S. Constitution, and U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling in San Antonio keeps it from taking effect as planned Friday — allowing the case time to proceed.

In a 94-page ruling, Garcia wrote that there “is overwhelming evidence by local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB 4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe” and that “localities will suffer adverse economic consequences which, in turn, will harm the state of Texas.”

“The Court cannot and does not second guess the Legislature,” he continued. “However, the state may not exercise its authority in a manner that violates the United States Constitution.”

Garcia’s order suspends the law’s most contentious language while suggesting that even parts of the law that can go forward won’t withstand further legal challenges.

The law had sought to fine law enforcement authorities who fail to honor federal requests to hold people jailed on offenses that aren’t immigration related for possible deportation. It also would have ensured that police chiefs, sheriffs and constables could face removal from office and even criminal charges for failing to comply with such federal “detainer” requests.

The four largest cities in Texas — San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas— have joined the lawsuit, saying the law is vague and would have a chilling effect on immigrant communities. Their attorneys told Garcia that his ruling could determine if other states pursue copycat measures. Lawyers for the Texas attorney general’s office responded that the new law has fewer teeth than Arizona’s 2010 “Show Me Your Papers” measure that was partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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