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Court Battle Begins Over Texas Anti-Sanctuary Law

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The legal fight over a Texas law that bans sanctuary cities commences in a San Antonio courtroom Monday, as some of the state’s largest cities ask a federal judge to block the implementation of a law they say encourages racial profiling and violates the Constitution.

District Judge Orlando Garcia is scheduled to decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction against the law — known as Senate Bill 4 — to prevent it from going into effect on Sept. 1. Opponents say the measure should not be enforced while various legal challenges make their way through the courts.

The Department of Justice has officially sided with Texas, saying in a “statement of interest” filed on Friday that it plans to present oral arguments at Monday’s hearing.

The Texas anti-sanctuary law, which Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed in May, is the nation’s toughest statewide crackdown on illegal immigration and local jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts. The law compels local jailers to honor immigration detention requests, allows police officers to ask about the immigration status anyone they detain, and prescribes jail time for public officials who don’t share information with immigration agents.

Almost immediately after Abbott signed SB4, civil rights organizations and some Texas cities announced they would team up to challenge the law in court. The lawsuit, originally brought by the small border town of El Cenizo, now includes the state’s four largest cities — Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin — and a number of immigrants’ rights groups, including the League Of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

LULAC attorney Luis Vera has called Texas a “battleground” in the fight to determine how far states can go to punish cities that resist federal immigration policy.

“No one in the history of the United States has ever attempted this in any state,” Vera told Reuters. “That’s why the whole world is watching us right now.”

Supporters of SB4 say the law provides ample safeguards against racial profiling and will pass constitution muster. They also reject claims that the law will make Texas cities less safe by having what Harris Country Sheriff Ed Gonzalez calls a “chilling effect” on crime reporting in immigrant communities.

“It is absurd, it is offensive, when people say sanctuary cities make us safe,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told reporters last week, according to Reuters. “They allow hardened criminals to hide in plain sight.”

Both sides now await Judge Garcia’s ruling on whether or not Texas can enforce the law during what promises to be a protracted fight in the federal court system. Opponents of SB4 are optimistic that Garcia will issue an injunction, given his previous ruling in a case involving federal immigration detention requests.

Garcia questioned the legality of some detainer requests covered under SB4 in a ruling earlier in June, saying there are times when they can violate the Constitution.

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