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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.”
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.