News Law and Policy

Judge Blocks Texas’ Anti-Immigrant Law From Taking Effect (Updated)

Tina Vasquez

“The court was right to strike down virtually all of this patently unconstitutional law."

UPDATE, September 26, 2:58 p.m.: A federal court on Monday ruled that some portions of SB 4 will go into effect while the larger case continues on appeal. Most notably, the detainer provision of the law must now be followed. 

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has partially granted a request to block Texas from implementing SB 4, the law slated to go into effect on Friday that would have allowed local law enforcement to racially profile people they suspected of being undocumented immigrants.

The goal of SB 4 was to force local law enforcement to carry out immigration enforcement for the federal government, said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at MALDEF, one of the plaintiffs challenging the law.

Garcia blocked three provisions of SB 4, which would have made it mandatory to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers in local jails, restricted the free speech of local officialsbarring them from openly criticizing SB 4 or immigration enforcement practices at the federal leveland permitted police to act as immigration enforcement officers, giving them the ability to stop anyone they suspected of being undocumented.

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Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, told Texas residents during a press call Thursday morning to “go about their business” and “carry on with their daily lives” without the fear of police acting as immigration enforcement.

He issued an important reminder.

“Every person has the right to refuse any questions posed to them by law enforcement about their immigration status, and the refusal to answer should have no consequences,” Saenz said. “Local police in Texas need to consider carefully if they want to engage in any immigration questioning at all.”

One advocate in Texas shared with Rewire that when news broke of Garcia’s injunction, members of the Austin Sanctuary Network “erupted in cheers and tears.”

The news concerning SB 4 comes at an otherwise trying time in Texas, as Hurricane Harvey wreaks havoc on the state’s immigrant communities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection refused to close immigration checkpoints, putting undocumented people at risk of being detained and deported while attempting to evacuate.

But even before Hurricane Harvey, undocumented immigrants were fleeing Texas. In anticipation of SB 4 going into effect, an Austin-based undocumented immigrant who wanted to remain anonymous spoke to Rewire about the friends and family members he was losing because of the law.

“In our daily lives, we do everything possible not to obstruct the law; we follow the laws,” he said. “Once SB 4 was signed, so many friends have chosen to leave. I have gatherings coming up where we are giving our goodbyes because the family is going back to Vera Cruz, [Mexico]. Another friend of mine is leaving for Oregon. Another to Chicago. A lot of people are leaving because they can’t live in this fear. They can’t live like thisand no one should have to.”

And they won’t have to, as least for now. Texas is expected to file an emergency appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court, asking the court to stay or pause the lower court ruling. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has a history of granting such emergency requests.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, argued the SB 4 case on behalf of the city of El Cenizo and Mayor Raul Reyes, Texas LULAC, and Maverick County plaintiffs.

“The court was right to strike down virtually all of this patently unconstitutional law,” Gelernt said in a statement. “Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe. That’s why police chiefs and mayors themselves were among its harshest critics—they recognized it would harm, not help, their communities.”

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