Austin follows through on lawsuit to block ‘sanctuary cities’ ban

5:22 p.m Friday, June 2, 2017 Texas News & Politics
Austin Mayor Steve Adler joins other state and local leaders at a protest last month against Senate Bill 4. The city has joined San Antonio’s challenge to the law banning so-called sanctuary cities.

The city of Austin followed through on a promise to challenge the state’s controversial “sanctuary cities” ban on Friday with a court filing that now unites it with the city of San Antonio and numerous advocacy groups in their fight to block Senate Bill 4 before it takes effect.

Calling Austin’s public safety a political football state lawmakers kicked around the Capitol that ultimately resulted in a dangerous law, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said it was time to move the fight to a different venue.

“We want our day in court,” Adler said.

SB 4 creates civil and criminal penalties for police and elected officials — including arrest or removal from office — if they block cooperation with federal requests to detain jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. It also allows police to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine police encounters, such as traffic stops.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill last month and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Austin hours later in what many saw as a pre-emptive strike to have a judge declare the law constitutional. Though Austin was destined to defend itself in federal court over SB 4, joining San Antonio’s suit against the law allows the cities to argue it should be blocked.

Austin’s legal challenge, which the City Council voted to pursue last month, takes the form of a “complaint in intervention” that allows the city to join a suit that San Antonio filed in federal court on Thursday. The city and county of El Paso have sued along with the town of El Cenizo, Maverick County and numerous advocacy groups.

As the legal challenges to SB 4 have rolled in, a consensus of arguments against the law is beginning to emerge.

The central challenge in both Austin and San Antonio’s filings has been against the state’s ability to create immigration laws, a power the U.S. Constitution reserves for the federal government in part so foreign governments don’t end up dealing with a patchwork of immigration laws.

That part of the Constitution was cited in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that blocked several parts of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, a law with a section similar to SB 4’s “show me your papers” provision that empowers local law enforcement to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine interactions.

The lawsuits also say SB 4 violates the Fourth Amendment because it could lead to jail detentions for immigration violations, which are civil infractions, not criminal offenses. The cities also argue that SB 4 might violate elected officials’ First Amendment rights because it bars them from endorsing sanctuary policies, a provision critics believe is overly vague.

Several 14th Amendment violations are alleged along with claims that the law would encourage racial profiling and discrimination.

“The result of the threatened implementation of SB 4 has been a breakdown in public trust, as affected individuals feel they cannot contact municipal and nongovernmental agencies for fear of immigration enforcement,” Austin’s suit said.

The city’s filing on Friday states that Austin would suffer economic harm if the bill is allowed to take effect. The city could see a drop in international tourism for the South by Southwest Festival and Circuit of the Americas events because visitors might fear enhanced immigration enforcement measures, the filing says. The state could also face boycotts like Arizona did after that state passed its controversial law in 2010.

The Austin filing also states that local policing could suffer. It posits that a police officer might be forced under the law to assist federal immigration authorities performing operations in Austin while a more urgent public safety matter might be unfolding because the law prohibits local police from refusing to assist federal authorities in any instance.

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