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The Catch-22 ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Face Under Newly Signed Texas Law

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott talks about a so-called "sanctuary cities" ban in Austin.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott talks about a so-called "sanctuary cities" ban in Austin. Office of Gov. Greg Abbott / The AP


Connecting state and local government leaders

Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation mandating local officials comply with federal immigration law or face possible removal from office. But doing so without a warrant could open them up to unlawful arrest lawsuits.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation on Sunday evening targeting sanctuary city and county jurisdictions in the Lone Star State, a measure that also permits law enforcement to ask a lawfully detained person’s immigration status.

Senate Bill 4 makes it possible to charge local officials in government, law enforcement and public colleges with a Class A misdemeanor for failing to comply with federal immigration enforcement detainer requests.

A first offense is subject to a $1,000 fine with subsequent infractions increasing up to $25,500 and jail time and removal from office threatened.

“This law cracks down on policies like the Travis County sheriff, who declared that she would not detain known criminals accused of violent crimes,” Abbott, a Republican, said during the signing of the bill on Facebook. “Those policies are sanctuary city policies and won’t be tolerated in Texas.”

Proponents of sanctuary cities and counties argue that the federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement detainers Republican state lawmakers would force them to comply with constitute unlawful re-arrests absent warrants.

Local officials in sanctuary cities, like Austin Mayor Steve Adler, will soon find themselves caught between enforcing the new state or existing federal law.

“Our law enforcement community could not have been clearer with the legislature: By driving people into hiding, this bill will make it harder to catch criminals,” Adler, a Democrat, said in a statement released Sunday. “But this bill has never really been about keeping our cities safe.”

When governments work with ICE, both undocumented and authorized immigrant households experience increased financial stress, forgo utilities and medical care, miss rent payments, and see their children suffer cognitively and physically in their development, according to a recent Urban Institute study.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is already preparing for a court battle over the law, which law enforcement officers could attempt to enforce during routine traffic stops, The Texas Tribune reported.

Abbott’s signing of the bill on Facebook without advance notice was a convenient way to avoid mass protests.

“This is the 21st century,” Abbott told Glenn Beck during a radio interview Monday. “We’ve seen an evolution with regard to digital media, with regard to the way elected officials are communicating directly with their constituents.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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