Conservatives won a victory Tuesday in the ongoing legal clash over Senate Bill 4, the state’s so-called sanctuary cities ban, with a ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that will allow the state to continue enforcing the law.
The court ruled that the cities challenging the controversial 2017 law will likely lose their federal lawsuit against the state challenging SB 4. Plaintiffs in the case include most of Texas’ largest cities, including Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso.
However, the court’s ruling does state that a provision that prohibited local elected officials from “endorsing” sanctuary city policies is likely unconstitutional.
Soon after the ruling was filed, state Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the action, which was widely expected from the conservative court.
“I’m pleased the 5th Circuit recognized that Senate Bill 4 is lawful, constitutional and protects the safety of law enforcement officers and all Texans,” Paxton said in a news release. “Enforcing immigration law prevents the release of individuals from custody who have been charged with serious crimes. Dangerous criminals shouldn’t be allowed back into our communities to possibly commit more crimes.”
SB 4 requires cities to comply with federal immigration agents’ detention requests for local jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. It also empowers local police to investigate the immigration status of anyone they might encounter during routine police detentions, including traffic stops.
Supporters of the law point to people like Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero, 33, a documented gang member who was in the country illegally and was released from the Travis County Jail last summer, even though agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement wanted to hold him. He was released under a policy that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez had adopted in which only some ICE detainer requests were honored. Hernandez’s office says she is honoring all ICE detainer requests now that SB 4 is in effect.
In contrast, opponents point to the case of Juan Coronilla-Guerrero, 28, as showing some of the possible consequences of a law they say needlessly separates families and erodes trust between police and immigrant communities. Coronilla-Guerrero, who was initially arrested in Austin on a misdemeanor assault charge, was deported to Mexico, despite warnings that sending him back would endanger his life. He was killed in September.
Mayor Steve Adler said he would await advice from the city’s legal team on how to move forward, but continued to denounce the law.
“Our police chief tells us this law will make us less safe because it breaks down the trust we’ve earned with many of our communities,” Adler said. “So we need to respond and act, within the law, to preserve as much of that trust as possible.”
The cities seeking to overturn SB 4 have argued that the law illegally supersedes federal supremacy to make immigration laws. They have also alleged that the law will cause discrimination against minorities and deputize local law enforcement as immigration agents.
Tuesday’s ruling is not the end to the legal challenge against the 2017 law. Though Tuesday’s ruling struck down a large portion of an Aug. 30 temporary injunction put in place by the San Antonio federal judge, that court has yet to make a final determination in the case.
Whatever the outcome in San Antonio, many involved in the case believe that the SB 4 lawsuit is destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.
During 2017’s session of the Legislature, Republican state lawmakers rallied behind Gov. Greg Abbott’s call to pass a sanctuary cities ban, which made Texas one of the toughest states on illegal immigration. Abbott’s push for the law was in part a reaction to Hernandez’s jail policy, which led the governor to pull $1.5 million on grant funding from Travis County.
Hernandez said in a statement that it was hard to express her disappointment to the ruling.
“We will continue to follow the law as provided to us by the courts in this matter, and we will rise to the challenge of keeping Travis County safe, although our ability to overcome fear and foster cooperation within the immigrant community is a greater challenge now,” her statement said.