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Appeals Court Upholds Most of Texas' Anti-Sanctuary Cities Bill

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Elected officials join protestors outside San Antonio's federal courthouse last June as the lawsuit had its first day in court.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld most of Senate Bill 4, the so-called anti-sanctuary cities bill. The decision by a three judge panel Tuesday overturns a lower court ruling that blocked portions of the law last year.

Although some parts of SB4 were allowed to be implemented after an August ruling by Judge Orlando Garcia last August, the 5th Circuit ruling allows the majority of the law to take effect. The law punishes local law enforcement agencies that don’t comply with federal immigration law. It also blocks cities from implementing policies that forbid police officers from asking the immigration status of those detained or arrested, which some say could lead to racial profiling.

“Local police officers are not trained in immigration law and we will be monitoring to make sure they are not discriminating against people of color as a substitute for genuine suspicion that’s someone is in the country unlawfully,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case at the 5th Circuit in November.

The judges did stop a provision that barred elected officials from speaking out against immigration laws or endorsing sanctuary city policies, saying it would violate the First Amendment.

Officials like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott praised the ruling. In a statement, Paxton said: “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.”

The law passed Texas 2017 legislative session in May, and the state was almost immediately sued by the multiple cities and counties in the state, including San Antonio. San Antonio’s District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana is listed as a plaintiff in the suit. He said the city will continue to stand by residents who may be affected by the law.

“With the cloud of SB4 over members of our community — who are trying to do nothing else but chase the American dream, nothing else but to continue to be contributing taxpaying members of our city — that is the least we can do for our city residents, our city neighbors, and we are going to continue to do that as we watch the lawsuit progress,” he said.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund represented San Antonio in the suit and  its president, Thomas Seanz, said the fight was far from over.

"While it is disappointing that these three judges of the 5th Circuit could not discern the many inherent and unconstitutional defects in the language and in the enactment of the extremely ill-advised SB 4, we note that this is a panel decision on a preliminary injunction,” he said. “Thus, there remain opportunities to develop the claims against SB 4 before any final decision in the case. Moreover, there remain options in the 5th Circuit and the Supreme Court to revisit this faulty decision as to preliminary relief.”

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules