Federal court upholds most of Texas' sanctuary city law

By Daniel Uria
Federal court upholds most of Texas' sanctuary city law
A federal appeals panel upheld most of Texas' Senate Bill 4, supported by Gov. Greg Abbott, which bans "sanctuary cities" in the state and potentially punishes officials from promoting them. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

March 13 (UPI) -- A panel of three U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled Tuesday that most of a Texas law banning so-called sanctuary cities can remain in effect.

The federal court upheld portions of Senate Bill 4 which allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and requires county jails to honor requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold detainees suspected of being eligible for deportation.


"With one exception, SB4's provisions do not, on their face, violate the Constitution," the panel wrote.

The ruling overturns an injunction by a San Antonio federal judge who found portions of the law unconstitutional.

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The judges didn't uphold a provision punishing local officials from "adopting, enforcing or endorsing" policies that specifically prohibit or limit enforcement of immigration laws. They found the use of the word "endorse" could violate the First Amendment and penalize local officials who opposed immigration policies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of several cities, including Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, said it would consider how to move forward.


"The court made clear that we remain free to challenge the manner in which the law is implemented, so we will be monitoring the situation on the ground closely," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.

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Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, a staunch supporter of SB 4, updated his Twitter followers about the ruling Tuesday.

"Texas Ban on Sanctuary City Policies upheld by Federal Court of Appeals. Allegations of discrimination were rejected. Law is in effect," he wrote.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had defended the law in court, said he was pleased with the ruling.

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"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," Paxton said.

State Sen. Jose Menendez dismissed the law as "unnecessary and politically motivated" adding it was opposed by "virtually everyone in law enforcement."

"It does nothing to make anyone safer and it will drive a wedge between law enforcement and certain people," he said.

Judge Orlando L. Garcia of United States District Court for the Western District of Texas blocked several parts of the law in August, but left in place the portion allowing law enforcement to question a person's immigration status.


A separate panel of judges ruled in September ruled law enforcement agencies must comply with federal detainers for undocumented immigrants.

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