Appeals Court Panel Says Officers Can Ask About Immigration Status

Local officials may not prohibit police from asking those they stop about their immigration status, the three-judge panel ruled.

By Rhonda FanningSeptember 26, 2017 10:51 am, ,

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that part of the state’s new, and highly controversial immigration enforcement law, also known as SB 4, can go into effect, even as a legal challenge to the law continues.

Last month, a district judge in San Antonio blocked the part of the law that forced jail officials to honor all federal detainer requests. Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, a critic of SB 4, announced after the appeals court ruling that her office will now comply with all detainer requests.

Lynne Rambo, a professor of law at Texas A&M University Law School says that under the 5th Circuit ruling, local governments can no longer prohibit police officers from asking those they lawfully stop about their immigration status.

“The flip side of that,” Rambo says, “is that the 5th Circuit agreed that to stop police chiefs and mayors and so forth from advocating sanctuary city policies would violate the free speech clause. A police officer on the street may be able to ask about the immigration status of a person, but he may also know that his chief has spoken out against it.”

Rambo says the fact that police are allowed to ask about immigration status, rather than being told that they must, or must not ask, gives individual officers a great deal of discretion.

“It rather suggests that a politicized police officer who is averse to immigration will take one approach, and someone who is comfortable with immigration will take a different approach,” Rambo says.

SB 4 includes penalties for local officials who do not comply with federal detainer requests, including criminal sanctions. Rambo says those penalties remain in effect for those portions of the law the court allowed to remain in place.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.