The Atlantic

The Anti-Sanctuary-Cities Bill That Outlawed Dissent

A federal court enjoined much of a Texas law that punished officials who dared “endorse” the view that its provisions were harmful to public safety.
Source: Carlos Barria / Reuters

Last week, in City of El Cenizo v. Texas, a federal district court enjoined much of Texas’s new anti-“sanctuary city” law, SB 4, from taking effect. That bill stirred eerie echoes of the American past; I heard faint tones of Abraham Lincoln’s pro-slavery rival Stephen A. Douglas in the stated intent of its sponsor.

Start with SB 4. In its main features, it told Texas localities, universities, or officials—on pain of fines and even jail time—that they could not stop local peace officers from investigating the immigration status of those they detain and notifying federal authorities; forbade the same localities and officials to limit “the enforcement of immigration laws;” and instructed local peace officers to provide “enforcement assistance” to federal immigration authorities. In addition, localities would be required to obey “immigration detainer requests,” which are administrative requests from immigration authorities to keep individuals in jail even after charges have been dropped so they can decide whether to deport them.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 4 in May, and proclaimed, “Texas has now banned sanctuary cities.”

On August 30—one day before SB 4 was to against most of the law. The detainer provision, he held, probably violates the Fourth Amendment’s bar on “unreasonable” arrest and detention. The “cooperation” clause, he held, almost certainly violates the federal immigration code, which, unlike SB 4, allows cooperation with local law enforcement only under strict conditions—including that all cooperation be under the direct authority of the attorney general, not local immigration officials.

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