Feb. 24 (UPI) -- An appeals court on Thursday reinstated a Texas law that increasing penalties for "harboring" undocumented immigrants and hiding them from law enforcement, while clarifying the purpose and scope of the law, according to attorneys.
A three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a temporary injunction of the harboring law which was put in place in 2015 when two San Antonio landlords challenged the law under fear they could be charged with violating it for renting to people with questionable immigration status.
The judges said David Cruz and Valentin Reyes, landlords the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sued Texas on behalf of, could not be held liable under the law for renting property to an undocumented immigrant.
"There is no reasonable interpretation by which merely renting housing or providing social services to an illegal alien constitutes 'harboring... that person from detection,'" U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote in the panel's ruling.
At issue was the word "sheltering," and how it might be interpreted either by a prosecutor or judge, and up to 10 year prison term violating the law may carry. Lawyers for the state said the law is specifically focused on concealing undocumented immigrants from detection by law enforcement, including convincing a person to violate immigration law.
By clarifying that the law refers specifically to smuggling and other operations, Nina Perales, vice president for litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, will be good news for her clients, who now know where they stand with the law.
"It took the 5th Circuit to do Ken Paxton's job for him," Perales said. "Today the 5th Circuit stated firmly that ordinary landlords and humanitarian workers cannot be prosecuted under [the law]. Our clients are happy to know they are safe from prosecution simply for living out their religious beliefs or conducting business with undocumented individuals."