Paxton appeals order barring ‘sanctuary cities’ ban


Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an appeal Thursday to a ruling that blocked Senate Bill 4.

The appeal sets up a legal fight that might be destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supporters cheered the ruling but agreed it would be a long fight.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a notice of appeal Thursday to a federal court order that largely barred the controversial “sanctuary cities” ban from taking effect Friday.

That filing came in rapid response to the injunction issued Wednesday evening by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who questioned the constitutionality of Senate Bill 4 and expressed concern over the law’s potential to make local authorities’ jobs more difficult by straining their relationships with their communities.

Paxton on Thursday also asked Garcia to set aside the injunction while the state’s appeal is pending with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is regarded as one of the country’s most conservative appellate courts. Garcia denied that motion.

Additionally, Paxton appealed an order from early August from an Austin federal court that dismissed his lawsuit seeking to have the bill pre-emptively declared constitutional.

THE BACK STORY: Austin to sue state over SB 4 ban on ‘sanctuary cities’

SB 4 requires local law enforcement officials to comply with all requests from federal immigration authorities to hold local jail inmates suspected of living in the country illegally, and it creates civil and criminal penalties for elected officials enacting policies against SB 4.

Critics have argued the law will encourage racial profiling, fray relations between police and immigrant communities, and break up immigrant families. Proponents say the law will reduce crime and remove criminals from the streets.

Garcia’s injunction blocking SB 4 from going into effect Friday “makes Texas’ communities less safe,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Because of this ruling, gang members and dangerous criminals, like those who have been released by the Travis County Sheriff, will be set free to prey upon our communities.”

Even if the injunction is overturned, SB 4 appears destined for a lengthy legal battle.

“Everything tells me this is headed to the Supreme Court,” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University.

One of the most controversial aspects of the law empowers local law enforcement officers to investigate a person’s immigration status during routine police encounters, such as traffic stops. That provision of the law wasn’t barred by Garcia’s order, so it will go into effect Friday.

Officials at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the advocacy group representing San Antonio, Bexar County and El Paso in the suit against SB 4, downplayed the impact of that aspect of SB 4. In a briefing with reporters Thursday morning, they noted that police leaders can now provide strong guidance on when and where officers should question a person’s immigration status.

Still, MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas Saenz said it is up to individual officers to weigh whether they should question a person’s immigration status.

“Such questioning could drive a wedge between important communities and the police that serve them,” Saenz said. “They could prevent the police from engaging in the important investigative work they already have to do in respect to crime in the state of Texas and could call into question the legitimacy to any detention that is followed by extended questioning.”

The news of the temporary halt gave hope to Austin-area advocacy groups who fought the passage of SB 4.

“This injunction is a great victory for all Texans against a hateful bill put forward and signed by Greg Abbott,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “We applaud our local officials for challenging this law, and call on all our local officials to renew resistance to anti-immigrant hate.”

Latino civic engagement organization Jolt, Youth Rise Texas and other student groups are moving forward with plans for a Youth Rally Against Hate at noon Friday. High school and college students plan to walk out of school and join the event, which will feature art and music, at the Capitol.

On Saturday, various immigrant rights and civil rights groups will celebrate the temporary injunction with a Unity Concert and March from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Capitol.

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