‘Sanctuary cities’ ban SB 4 hearing focuses on the extent of ICE’s reach


Judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday probed the extent of the reach of Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities ban, as well as its effect on elected officials’ free speech during an appeal hearing on the controversial state law.

There is no timeline on when the panel of three judges will rule on the applicability of a previous ruling from a federal judge that blocked much of the law on the days before its implementation. The appeals court undid portions of that injunction in September.

On one side of the hearing were lawyers representing the numerous Texas cities and counties that sued the state to invalidate SB 4, and on the other, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and U.S. attorneys arguing in favor of the law. Paxton did not argue before the court.

The law empowers local law enforcement agents to conduct investigations into a person’s immigration status during routine detentions like traffic stops, requires local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration agents, and makes federal detention requests placed on jail inmates suspected of illegal immigration mandatory.

“We can’t allow sanctuary cities to harbor these criminals and we cannot allow city officials to ignore laws just because they don’t agree with them,” Paxton said after the hearing, reading from a prepared statement on the steps of the John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building in New Orleans.

Judges Edith Jones, Jerry Edwin Smith and Edward Prado’s questions to attorneys provided clues as to what aspects of the law they are closely examining, including numerous questions from Jones about a provision of the law that states local police cannot “materially limit” cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt said the law would essentially empower ICE to give orders to local police to conduct raids or sweeping interrogations. Gelernt said SB 4 would make it possible, for example, for ICE to ask police to start questioning participants at soccer games. .

“I think your hypothetical is totally off base,” Jones said. “I really disagree with your interpretation.”

After the hearing, Gelernt said he would not predict how the judges would rule based on their questions.

“The court was very prepared as we expected and asked tough questions of both sides,” Gelernt said. “We think this law is not good for the state of Texas as police chiefs and sheriffs across the state have told us. We think this law is going to make us less safe, not more safe.”

Judges also seemed very interested in an element of the law that requires elected and government officials to “endorse” the law. Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller told the court the provision would not apply to political speech.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

With in-depth report, Austin mulls pros, cons of 8 sites for MLS use
With in-depth report, Austin mulls pros, cons of 8 sites for MLS use

The Austin City Council postponed action regarding the potential future home of a Major League Soccer club this week, but there is plenty to discuss after eight publicly owned sites were unveiled as possibilities earlier this week. The city released a detailed report Thursday, providing more information about the sites identified as having the potential...
Texas cancels no-bid contract for special education analysis
Texas cancels no-bid contract for special education analysis

The Texas Education Agency has canceled its contract with a technology company charged with analyzing special education programs. The TEA had contracted with SPEDx, a Georgia-based company, to look for trends and patterns in special education records. But the $4.4 million project incurred the ire of advocacy groups and parents, who said they worried...
20 arrested after Taylor-based cocaine trafficking operation
20 arrested after Taylor-based cocaine trafficking operation

Federal and state authorities arrested 20 people and charged them with having a role in a narcotics distribution ring operating in the Taylor area, U.S. Department of Justice officials said Friday.  Among those arrested is 42-year-old Horace Caruther, a man federal officials said is the “ringleader” of the drug ring. From July...
Trump inauguration riot trial goes to the jury
Trump inauguration riot trial goes to the jury

The first trial of nearly 200 Inauguration Day protesters charged with rioting, conspiracy to riot and destruction of property went to a jury Friday afternoon, a month after it began. Freelance photojournalist Alexei Wood of San Antonio and five other defendants could receive more than 50 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted...
UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven to step down, citing health concerns
UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven to step down, citing health concerns

Bill McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas System, is planning to step down at the end of the academic year in May because of health issues he has been facing, he told the UT System Board of Regents on Friday afternoon. McRaven’s decision was not completely unexpected, given that he was briefly hospitalized in November for what he described...
More Stories