5th U.S. Circuit favors Texas crackdown on sanctuary cities

AUSTIN, Texas -- A Texas immigration crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities took effect Tuesday after a federal appeals court upheld a law that threatens elected officials with jail time and allows police officers to ask people during routine stops whether they're in the U.S. illegally.

The ruling was a blow to Texas' biggest cities -- including Houston, Dallas and San Antonio -- that sued last year to prevent enforcement of what opponents said is now the toughest state-level immigration measure on the books in the U.S.

But for President Donald Trump's administration, the decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is a victory against measures seen as protecting illegal aliens. Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sued California over its sanctuary state law.

In Texas, the fight over a new law known as Senate Bill 4 has raged for more than a year, roiling the Republican-controlled Legislature and once provoking a near-fistfight between lawmakers in the state Capitol. It set off debates that touched on race and drew backlash from big-city police chiefs and rebuke from the government in Mexico, which is Texas' largest trading partner and has close ties to the state.

Since 2010, the Hispanic population in Texas has grown at a pace three times that of white residents.

"Allegations of discrimination were rejected. Law is in effect," Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted after the ruling was published.

A major focal point of the Texas law is the requirement for local authorities to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, or risk jail time if they don't. Police chiefs, sheriffs and constables could also face removal from office for failing to comply with such federal "detainer" requests.

One sheriff Abbott had in his sights was Travis County's Sally Hernandez, an elected Democrat who runs Austin's jails. Last year, Hernandez announced on the day Trump was sworn in that her department would no longer comply with all detainer requests, a decision Republicans repeatedly pointed to in their defense of the measure.

"Words just can't express how disappointed I am with this ruling," Hernandez said. But she said her department would follow the law as directed by the courts.

The Texas law is often slammed by opponents as a near-copycat of Arizona's "Show Me Your Papers" law in 2010, but the two measures are not identical. Whereas the Arizona law originally required police to try to determine the immigration status of people during routine stops, the Texas bill doesn't instruct officers to ask.

U.S. Circuit Judge Edith Jones wrote in the court's opinion that the Arizona law -- which was partially blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court -- was more "problematic" because it mandated the questions during traffic stops. She added that no suspicion, reasonable or not, is required to ask questions of lawfully detained individuals.

But the Texas law remains worse in "a lot of respects," said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped lead the lawsuit against SB4. He said his group was still deciding its next steps.

Police chiefs across Texas said the law will create a chilling effect that will cause alien families to not report crimes or step forward as witnesses over fears that talking to local police could lead to deportation. Critics also fear it will lead to the racial profiling of Hispanics and put officers in untenable positions.

A Section on 03/14/2018

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