7 things you need to know about SB 4, the ‘anti-sanctuary’ law

Senate Bill 4, the measure banning so-called sanctuary cities by punishing jurisdictions that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials, was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month. As Austin and other cities across the state prepare to challenge it in court, local officials, law enforcement agencies and immigration attorneys continue to study what changes the new law will bring when it goes into effect Sept. 1.

Here are a few things you should know about sanctuary cities and SB 4:

What is a “sanctuary city”?

A city, county or state is considered a “sanctuary” when it limits its cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in detaining or sharing information about immigrants who are living in the country illegally. In other words, local officials in sanctuary communities choose to decline requests to share information with ICE about some people suspected of being in the country illegally or release some unauthorized immigrants in their custody to federal immigration authorities. Sanctuary cities can also be those with police departments that instruct officers not to ask people about immigration status.

What is Senate Bill 4?

SB 4 was introduced early this legislative session by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. The bill emerged shortly after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced limits on cooperation between the county jail and ICE agents, fulfilling a campaign promise she made last year.

SB 4 bans sanctuary cities and policies like the one Hernandez put in place in Travis County. Abbott signed the bill into law on May 7 during a Facebook Live broadcast.

How will state law change?

According to immigration attorney Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, there will be two major changes. First, Travis County, as well as every other jurisdiction in the state, must now comply with federal immigration agents’ requests for inmates in its custody, without exceptions. Jurisdictions that don’t comply could be fined up to $25,000 a day.

Second, officers with any law enforcement agency, including universities’ and school districts’ police departments, have the right to ask people they stop whom officers suspect of breaking the law about their immigration status.

What do critics say?

Critics have said the law will increase profiling based on people’s race or ethnicity. And according to criminal defense attorney Amber Vazquez Bode, SB 4 could run counter to two constitutional amendments. The law might be challengeable under the Fourth Amendment — the legal basis for search warrants, which prohibits unreasonable searches — and the Fifth Amendment, which protects people’s right to refrain from answering questions that might incriminate them, Vazquez Bode said.

How do supporters respond?

Asked if he had any comments for Latinos in Texas worried about SB 4, Abbott recently said that SB 4 would not hurt anybody “who’s not a criminal.”

“My message to the Hispanic community is don’t fall for all of the fearmongering that’s going on,” he said. “If you’re a criminal and you’ve done something wrong, yes, whether you’re here legally or illegally, you’ve got something to be concerned about. If not, you’ve got nothing to be concerned about.”

Where do police departments stand?

Organizations such as the Texas Major Cities Chiefs and the Texas Police Chiefs Association have expressed their opposition to SB 4. In an April 28 opinion piece in the American-Statesman, the two organizations said they believe the law will create a rift between local police departments and immigrant communities, leading to an increase in “crime against immigrants and in the broader community; create a class of silent victims; and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing crime.”

According to Austin police Lt. Francisco Rodriguez, the department’s officers have met with Latino and immigrant communities to “let them know that we will continue to serve the community as we always have.”

What’s next?

In what was considered a pre-emptive strike, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against several Travis County and city of Austin officials, including Hernandez and Mayor Steve Adler, seeking a judge’s opinion on SB 4’s legality and challenging the claim that it’s unconstitutional.

The Austin City Council has already given permission for the city’s legal team to sue the state of Texas. The border city of El Cenizo, Maverick County and El Paso County have filed similar lawsuits.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

UPDATE: Fire at downtown Hilton hotel now out, fire officials say
UPDATE: Fire at downtown Hilton hotel now out, fire officials say

7:45 p.m. update: The fire is now out, fire officials said. Earlier: Austin firefighters are responding to a two-alarm fire on the third floor of the Hilton Hotel in the 500 block of East Fourth Street, officials said Monday evening. The hotel is being partially evacuated, officials said. The fire reportedly started at a laundry room and is confined...
Police: Taylor man used Snapchat to try to blackmail girl into sex
Police: Taylor man used Snapchat to try to blackmail girl into sex

A Taylor man accused of demanding sex from a 15-year-old girl on Snapchat faces new charges because he also threatened to post nude pictures of another girl if she did not have sex with him, an affidavit said. Arthuro Medrano, 20 was charged Thursday with two counts of unlawful disclosure or promotion of visual material, a state jail felony punishable...
Trump inauguration day riot trial begins in Washington
Trump inauguration day riot trial begins in Washington

The long-awaited first trial of Inauguration Day protesters began Monday with six of the 200 indicted protesters in court, including Texas photojournalist Alexei Wood, charged with rioting and destroying property as President Donald Trump was sworn into office. San Antonio-based Wood, 37, is one of two journalists still being charged — the government...
Austin school district chooses buyers for high-profile properties
Austin school district chooses buyers for high-profile properties

Austin school leaders are moving forward with the sales of the district’s downtown headquarters, the Baker Center and the Millett Opera House (home of the Austin Club), among other surplus properties. The school board next Monday is scheduled to vote on the sales of these properties: • The Carruth Center, the 2.7-acre district headquarters...
Rally planned tonight at Austin City Hall for Transgender Day of Remembrance
Rally planned tonight at Austin City Hall for Transgender Day of Remembrance

A rally is planned tonight at Austin City Hall as part of the international Transgender Day of Remembrance. The purpose of this event is to raise awareness of hate crimes committed against the transgender community. Austin’s event will begin at 7:30 p.m.   The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was...
More Stories