AUSTIN, Texas ― A federal judge on Wednesday blocked most of a state immigration crackdown two days before it was set to go into effect on Sept. 1, offering a major victory for opponents as a tropical storm ravages the state and local officials struggle to assure immigrants it’s safe to seek help.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia issued an injunction that prevents Texas Senate Bill 4 from being implemented while a lawsuit challenging the law winds its way through the federal courts. The ruling marks a victory for immigrant rights groups and several local governments ― including those of Austin, Houston, San Antonio and El Cenizo ― that argued the law unconstitutionally requires police to do the work of federal authorities and would lead to racial profiling.
“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,” Garcia wrote in his order. “There is also ample evidence that localities will suffer adverse economic consequences which, in turn, harm the State of Texas.”
The judge added that the legislature “is free to ignore the pleas of city and county officials, along with local police departments, who are in the trenches and neighborhoods enforcing the law on a daily and continuing basis” and can disregard their “reservoir of knowledge and experience.”
“The Court cannot and does not second guess the Legislature,” Garcia wrote. “However, the State may not exercise its authority in a manner that violates the United States Constitution.”
The injunction isn’t a total victory for SB 4 opponents. The ruling allows a provision of the law to take effect authorizing police to ask about the immigration status of those they stop, which Garcia said could in theory be applied in a way that does not violate the Constitution.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement he was confident federal courts will ultimately find the law constitutional and allow the state to implement it in full, despite the injunction.
“Senate Bill 4 was passed by the Texas Legislature to set a statewide policy of cooperation with federal immigration authorities enforcing our nation’s immigration laws,” Paxton said. “Texas has the sovereign authority and responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens.”
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and other state Republican leaders viewed SB 4 as a priority at this…