San Antonio Kickstarts Legal Fight Over Sanctuary Cities

Jun 26, 2017
Originally published on June 26, 2017 5:55 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There's a new law in Texas that prevents cities from being sanctuaries for immigrants who are in the country illegally. Today in San Antonio, the hearing is being held in federal court over an attempt to block that law. The legal action is being brought by the city of San Antonio as well as other Texas cities and civil rights groups. They argue that the law is unconstitutional. NPR's Wade Goodwyn brings us the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tell me what America looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: This is what America looks like.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Several hundred protesters gathered this morning in front of the federal courthouse in downtown San Antonio to show their opposition to Texas's so-called sanctuary cities law.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Show me what Texas looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: This is what Texas looks like.

GOODWYN: Senate Bill 4 allows local Texas law enforcement officers to request proof of legal residency during any routine detention - for example, a traffic stop. Critics dubbed this the show-me-your-papers law. Further, sheriffs and police chiefs could be jailed if they forbid their officers from participating in any immigration enforcement activities. Fresh from U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia's courtroom, lead counsel for San Antonio and Mexican American Legal Defense Fund lawyer Nina Perales detailed her arguments to the judge this morning.

NINA PERALES: This new Texas law known as SB4 essentially deputizes every local police officer in the state of Texas to become an immigration officer. It strips local governments of control over their officers.

GOODWYN: Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Republican-dominated state legislature knew SB4 would face fierce opposition from the generally democratically dominated Texas cities, so they wrote into the sanctuary cities bill features designed to make resistance futile. Even expressing verbal opposition might be considered a violation of the new law. Perales argues the law's punishments of local city councilmen, police chiefs and sheriffs are unconstitutional.

PERALES: SB4 instructs that they cannot endure certain kinds of local policies for fear of heavy fines and removal from office. And that's just a straight-up violation of the First Amendment.

GOODWYN: Another major point of contention involves forcing local jails to hold undocumented immigrants for federal immigration authorities. In a statement last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued, quote, "governments throughout Texas have a clear duty to continue holding undocumented and suspected criminal aliens pursuant to ICE detainers. If a Texas sheriff or other law enforcement authority cannot lawfully honor an ICE detainer, dangerous people will slip through the cracks of the justice system."

But earlier this month, Judge Garcia, the same judge in this hearing, ruled in a different case that the San Antonio sheriff's office violated an undocumented immigrant's Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure. The man was held for more than two months even after a misdemeanor charge against him was dismissed, and he now faces deportation. Geoffrey Hoffman is the director of the University of Houston Law Center's Immigration Clinic. Hoffman says the federal judge's previous ruling can be viewed as a shot across the state's bow.

GEOFFREY HOFFMAN: It does not necessarily guarantee that he will find that the entire act is unconstitutional, but I think it does shed light on his thinking and analysis.

GOODWYN: Judge Garcia's ruling is expected later this summer. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.