By far one of the most controversial laws to come out of the 85th Legislature last spring, Senate Bill 4 requires police chiefs and sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials. SB 4 also allows police to ask about the immigration status of anyone they arrest.
Gov. Greg Abbott was so pleased with the bill that he signed it into law while livestreaming the event on Facebook. Almost immediately, the city of El Cenizo and Maverick County sued to stop SB 4. El Paso County and the cities of Houston, Austin and San Antonio filed lawsuits, too, joined by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, and the ACLU.
In August, a federal judge temporarily blocked Texas officials from enforcing SB 4, but on Tuesday, in a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit almost completely reversed that ruling.
Mark P. Jones, a professor in the Department of Political Science at Rice University, says most sections of SB 4 were upheld in Tuesday’s ruling.
“Everything that Judge Garcia down in San Antonio had blocked – such as the requirements that local authorities cooperate with ICE detainers, and that they refrain from having ‘sanctuary city’ legislation enforced, either informally or formally – those have been reversed. The only thing that remains is that local officials are still free to endorse sanctuary city policies informally, based on their First Amendment rights.”
The ruling will affect law enforcement agencies across the state.
“Now cities and counties that were selectively acknowledging ICE detainer requests or completely ignoring them, now have to always comply with the detainer requests to the best of their abilities or face potential fines and prosection,” he says.
This isn’t the final ruling for SB 4, though.
“This whole process of SB 4 has to play out in the district court in San Antonio,” he says. “It will be appealed to the Fifth Circuit and eventually end up in the Supreme Court.”
In 2010, Arizona passed a similar bill, SB 1070, that set off a six-year legal battle that eventually went before the Supreme Court. The future of SB 4 is still uncertain, but it’s sure to influence states far beyond Texas.
“By and large,” Jones says, “this circuit has signaled that they view this legislation as constitutional and they view that there’s a high probability that, as it winds its way through the courts and eventually reaches the Supreme Court, that it will be upheld and Texas will therefore have SB 4 legislation in force.”
Written by Jen Rice.