First Big Setback Comes for Draconian Immigration Bill in Texas

Efforts to declare SB4 constitutional have been slapped down

A striding anti-immigration bill in Texas suffered another blow Wednesday when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton arguing the law was constitutional.

Referred to as SB4, the law targets so-called sanctuary cities―or, those that do not require local police to enforce federal immigration law. Set to take effect September 1, SB4 will authorize law enforcement to inquire about immigration status under any circumstances, in addition to requiring local officials to comply with federal detainer requests. Refusal to do so could result in a Class A misdemeanor (resulting in up to a $4,000 fine and potentially prison time), with possible additional fines up to $25,500 per day as well as removal from public office.

Activists and advocacy groups have accused SB4 of being a “show me your papers” bill along the lines of Arizona’s SB 1070, which passed in 2010 only to be met with immediate resistance and legal action. Its outsized impact on immigrant communities and communities of color has also been called out by opponents, many of whom have noted the disproportionate extent to which the law targets Latinx Texans.

The state government seems to have expected that opposition. Shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB4 into law, Paxton sued in an effort to stave off expected counter-suits. The lawsuit, which singles out several cities, including the state capital, Austin, asked for SB4 to be declared constitutional. But U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks dealt Paxton a blow on Wednesday, ruling that to allow governments a judicial decision before a law has gone into effect “would be to ‘open a Pandora’s box and invite every local government to seek a court’s judicial blessing’ on a law prior to it taking effect.”

While Sparks didn’t go so far as to say the law was unconstitutional, the ruling is still a blow for SB4―and an encouraging sign for its opponents.

“Recognizing that the state was seeking an improper advisory opinion when it filed the preemptive lawsuit challenging some of the major opponents of the proposed SB4…yesterday’s decision leaves the constitutionality of the enacted SB4 to be determined by the proper federal court in San Antonio, where motions for preliminary injunction are now pending,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF.

By E.A. Cruden for ThinkProgress
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