A federal appeals court struck down an injunction issued last year that blocked a Texas law prohibiting local governments in the state from adopting certain “sanctuary city” immigration policies.
The law, known as Senate Bill 4 allows Texas law enforcement officers to inquire about individuals’ immigration status whom they are detaining. Under the bill, city and local governments are prohibited from enacting laws that prevent law enforcement officials from asking about a person’s immigration status.
Local leaders also face fines – possibly even jail time – if they fail to cooperate with federal authorities who request prisoners be held for possible deportation or request the transfer of such individuals to federal custody. They face civil penalties of $1,000 for an initial offense and as much as $25,500 for subsequent infractions. The penalties also apply to public colleges.
The law also prohibits local officials from publicly “endorsing” any sanctuary-city policy.
Senate Bill 4 has been referred as the toughest immigration law in the country.
A U.S. District Court judge last August struck most parts of the law down, except for the provision that allowed law enforcement to inquire about an individual’s status. But a three-judge appeals panel reversed the District Judge’s ruling, saying the law could remain in effect until a final decision was made.
The only provision that the three-judge panel continued to block was the prohibition against endorsing sanctuary policies by local officials. The panel found that amounted to freedom-of-speech violations.
The decision this week by a second three-judge panel, largely upheld the decision by the first on last September continuing only to block the endorsing of sanctuary policies by officials. But even that block was narrowed. The panel found that the state cannot enforce the ban against elected officials but hinted that the provision might be constitutional when applied to government employees.
The rest of the bill, the panel found, was constitutional.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions applauded the ruling. “Today’s decision is an important step in restoring legality to our immigration system, which is what President Trump wants, what the American people deserve, and what the laws passed by Congress are intended to achieve,” Sessions said in a statement.
“It is a judicial victory that will better enable federal, state, and local law enforcement to protect all Americans from criminal aliens who have harmed countless innocent Americans and should be removed from our country,” he added.
Sessions’ Justice Department has targeted city and state governments for implementing illegal sanctuary policies. Earlier this month the Department of Justice announced a lawsuit against the state of California for statewide laws it says obstructs the federal government from enforcing existing immigration laws.