Appeals court will hear challenge to order blocking SB 4 this month

4:50 p.m Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 Local
Austin Mayor Steve Adler denounces Senate Bill 4 in June outside the federal courthouse in San Antonio. The judge who heard legal arguments that day issued an order in late August blocking SB 4 from taking effect while the court challenge plays out. Nick Wagner / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s appeal of an order blocking the controversial “sanctuary cities” ban in Senate Bill 4 will move forward at a fast clip, as an appeals court has set a Sept. 22 hearing for oral arguments.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Paxton’s request Thursday for an expedited hearing process and also set hearings on the merits of the appeal for Nov. 6.

Paxton is challenging a federal judge’s temporary injunction order last week that blocked the implementation of SB 4 while the lawsuit over the measure plays out. Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling came less than 48 hours before the immigration law was set to take effect.

The law would create civil and criminal penalties for local officials who adopt policies that block federal detention requests placed on jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. SB 4 would also fine politicians who do not “endorse” the law and would empower local police officers to investigate a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions, such as traffic stops.

THE BACK STORY: Austin to sue state over SB 4 ban on ‘sanctuary cities’

Proponents of the law say it would remove criminals from the streets and assist federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws. Critics of the law — including Austin, Travis County, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, which are all part of the lawsuit challenging it — have said SB 4 would create fear of police in immigrants communities, break up families and lead to racial profiling of Hispanics.

In the state’s emergency appeal, Paxton’s office had asked for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals lift the temporary injunction by Thursday. However, it now appears the law will remain on hold at least until mid-November, given the hearing dates the appeals court set.

SB 4 became a flash point during this year’s legislative session after newly elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez enacted a jail policy that ignored most so-called detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to hammer the county, promised to have Hernandez tossed from office and pulled $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from the county in response to the sheriff’s new policy.

Hernandez, who is a plaintiff in the suit seeking to overturn SB 4, has said she would follow SB 4 if the law is allowed to take effect.

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