Appeals court reinstates a Texas immigration law


Highlights

U.S. appeals court says Texas can enforce state law against harboring unauthorized immigrants.

The law, included in sweeping 2015 border legislation, was blocked by a lower court judge in April.

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Texas can once again enforce a 2015 state law that added criminal penalties for “harboring” or concealing immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

Ten months ago, Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra blocked Texas from enforcing the anti-harboring provision, which was part of a sweeping border security law known as House Bill 11.

Texas officials had long argued that the law created a new criminal offense that applied only to human traffickers and smugglers.

Ezra, however, said the law improperly placed a wider array of Texans at risk of jail time, including those who sued to block the harboring provision — two landlords, a homeless shelter in Brownsville and a legal-aid organization that serves Central and South Texas families who are in the country illegally.

TEXAS POLITICS DELIVERED EVERY DAY: Sign up for our Texas Politics email

On Thursday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Ezra’s ruling and dismissed the lawsuit, saying those who sued “cannot demonstrate a credible threat of prosecution.”

“Because there is no reasonable interpretation by which merely renting housing or providing social services to an illegal alien constitutes ‘harboring … that person from detection,’ we reverse the injunction,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote for the three-judge panel.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which sued to challenge the harboring provision, was cautiously pleased with the ruling, even if it led to the lawsuit’s dismissal.

“The court ruled that our clients are not harboring the undocumented immigrants that they serve,” said Nina Perales, the organization’s vice president for litigation.

“The 5th Circuit provided us with a narrow definition of harboring that will prevent Texas law enforcement officers from arresting humanitarian workers and landlords for simply providing shelter and conducting business with undocumented immigrants,” Perales said.

“In these days of increased concern that state and local police will take up the duties of federal immigration agents, today’s ruling restricts Texas to only the most limited enforcement of the harboring statute,” she said.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

Thursday’s ruling will allow Texas to enforce an HB 11 provision that made it a crime to encourage somebody to enter or remain in the country illegally by harboring or shielding them “with the intent to obtain a pecuniary benefit.”

By charging rent without verifying the immigration status of tenants, the landlords feared the law would apply to them. Likewise, the homeless shelter and legal-aid organization, which operates two temporary shelters, feared running afoul of the “pecuniary benefit” restriction because they rely on residents to cook, clean and provide maintenance in exchange for housing.

In its ruling, the appeals court said that, while the term “harbor” can be ambiguous, the law also requires immigrants to be shielded from detection.

“It requires some level of covertness well beyond merely renting or providing a place to live,” the court said.

The appeals court also noted that Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, testified that his agency wouldn’t investigate, file charges or enforce the anti-harboring provision against landlords, social services agencies and similar organizations.

Although McCraw’s assurances aren’t binding on local police and prosecutors, the court acknowledged, “DPS has a major role in the administration of HB 11, and testimony from its head … carries some weight.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the ruling, saying it “will allow the state to fight the smuggling of humans and illegal contraband by transnational gangs and perpetrators of organized crime, not just on the border, but throughout Texas.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

In two days, two handguns left unattended in women’s restrooms at UT
In two days, two handguns left unattended in women’s restrooms at UT

In the space of two days this week, handguns were left unattended in two women’s restrooms at the University of Texas. A holstered pistol was found Tuesday on top of a toilet paper dispenser in a restroom stall at the Graduate School of Business building on the main campus, said Cindy Posey, a university spokeswoman. Then, on Wednesday, a pistol...
San Marcos police arrest man charged with murder in Virginia
San Marcos police arrest man charged with murder in Virginia

San Marcos police on Wednesday arrested a man wanted on a murder charge in Virginia. Police in Axton, Va., reached out to San Marcos police after they learned that 23-year-old Jake Andrew Lewis, the suspect in the shooting death of Eric L. Adams on Feb. 17, may have been in the Central Texas city. Investigators tracked Lewis down to The Metropolitan...
JUST IN: Williamson deputy nearly dragged by fleeing driver for second time in two weeks
JUST IN: Williamson deputy nearly dragged by fleeing driver for second time in two weeks

A Williamson County sheriff’s deputy who was dragged by a car fleeing a traffic stop on Feb. 7 narrowly avoided being dragged again when another vehicle took off during a traffic stop on Tuesday in the Liberty Hill area. Sheriff Robert Chody posted a video of the incident showing Deputy Tabitha Horseman standing next to an SUV just after 11 p...
Will Abbott take advice, reduce Whitaker’s death sentence?
Will Abbott take advice, reduce Whitaker’s death sentence?

Whether Gov. Greg Abbott spares death row inmate Thomas Whitaker from Thursday evening’s scheduled execution could hinge on how much trust the governor places on the group of advisers who recommended mercy in the case. Spurred by the father who Whitaker tried to have killed in 2003, all seven members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles supported...
LATEST: Travis County flu death toll hits 39, officials say
LATEST: Travis County flu death toll hits 39, officials say

The flu death toll in Travis County hit 39 this week, continuing what public health officials have described as one of the deadliest flu seasons in recent memory. Austin Public Health spokeswoman Carole Barasch said the majority of deaths so far have been people age 80 and older and that no children have died from the illness. The death toll is now...
More Stories