The question isn’t whether or not the Texas attorney general’s office will be hauled to court over a Texas Senate bill to ban “sanctuary” policies in Texas — but, more likely, when they’ll be asked to defend Senate bill 4 in a federal court.
“There are ways to challenge the bill before September to prevent its implementation and we’ll be looking to challenge this as soon as possible,” said Marisa Bono, a staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Bono was referring to the Sept 1 date the bill is slated to take effect. Senators approved the controversial measure late Thursday after it cleared the Texas House last week.
Bono, whose firm represented some of the plaintiffs who successfully sued the state over its 2011 voter ID law and that year’s redistricting maps, said that litigation could focus on several issues, including what power states have to craft their own immigration-enforcement laws. A separate issue is whether the requests from federal authorities, known as detainers, are mandatory or voluntary.
“There are a number of provisions throughout the bill, including the detainer provision and several other sections, that raise concerns about preemption and vagueness” in the bill, she said.
The bill was passed after a San Antonio-based three-judge panel ruled that lawmakers either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act in 2011 by intentionally watering down the strength of minority voters in Texas. That was just weeks after a federal judge ruled that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and black Texans after the Legislature passed a strict voter ID law in 2011.
Bono said although those rulings prove state Republicans have had minorities in their crosshairs for years, she was confident plaintiffs would prevail in a lawsuit against SB4 because of the bill itself.
“We consider the wind at our backs because of the way the bill is worded,” she said. “But certainly the state’s history of intentional discrimination — and specifically recent targeting against the immigrant community — will be helpful in the narrative.”
See here for the background. It would be more than a little ironic if Texas’ discriminatory history, which has been reiterated multiple times in the courts lately, comes back to bite the state in the lawsuits that get filed over SB4. For sure, the state deserves zero benefit of the doubt, especially given all the testimony against SB4.
The Chron adds some details.
“People need to understand there’s a symbiotic relationship police have with the communities they serve. … If there’s a law that’s passed and officers start asking people’s status, that’s going to send a chill through the community,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit. “While this bill doesn’t require them to ask, there will be people who will interpret this bill as a green light to do immigration work, which is not the work of state and local police, that’s a federal responsibility.”
Citing already heightened tensions in Houston’s Latino community over anti-immigrant rhetoric, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Thursday he had already heard examples of residents who regretted reporting domestic violence crimes and then seeing their partners deported.
The new legislation could raise the stakes even further, he said.
“There’s this fear that any potential traffic stop, any call for service calling for police – they can be questioned, and why would they even call to begin with?” he said.
Troy Nehls, the Republican sheriff of Fort Bend County, warned the legislation goes too far by needlessly encroaching on local authority.
“I don’t support sanctuary cities, I’ve made that very clear,” Nehls said. “But some of language in this bill, I don’t agree with. … Adding the criminal penalty to sheriffs and others, it’s an overreach by state officials and state government.”
He said he would not fight the Legislature’s mandate but would use discretion as he went about his job.
“I’m not going to violate law, but if Sheriff Nehls makes a traffic stop, I’m not asking for your immigration status,” he said.
Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who specializes in immigration and constitutional law, said they can ask about immigration status but they cannot detain immigrants without charges while waiting for federal agents to pick them up.
“It was a little bit meaningless in the sense of what Arizona could do with it,” Spiro said. “(Police) can’t hold someone on a suspected immigration violation in and of itself.”
Terri Burke, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said the organization found “clear and potential constitutional problems” in more than 75 percent of traffic stops in Arizona, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate.
“The stops now occurring in Arizona can take from 15 minutes to three hours,” she said. “It is believed that is a constitutional violation.”
She said the high court also said that the state’s policy opens up the potential of racial profiling, but the issue so far hasn’t been addressed by the courts.
“This is an invitation for racial profiling,” Burke said. “You have people in an area who are brown-skinned and look foreign, they’re going to be asked for their papers.”
Law enforcement is strongly against this law, for lots of good reasons. I don’t know what effect that will have on the litigation, but we may as well keep it in mind.
And whatever is to come with this, it has begun.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed a ban on “sanctuary cities” into law on Sunday, putting the final touch on legislation that would also allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.
“Texas has now banned sanctuary cities in the Lone Star State,” Abbott said in a brief video address on Facebook. Abbott signed the bill without advance notice in a five-minute live broadcast on the social media site, avoiding protests a customary public signing might have drawn.
“We’re going to where most people are getting their news nowadays and talking directly to them instead of speaking through a filter,” said John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott.