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Texas Tried to Ban Sanctuary Cities — That’s When the Courts Intervened

AP Photo/Eric Gay

A law that would have banned “sanctuary cities” in Texas was temporarily blocked by a federal judge on Wednesday.

Known as SB4, the law —  which was set to take effect on Friday — would have allowed police officers to question a person’s immigration status, outlawed policies that limited immigration enforcement, forced police departments to cooperate with federal immigration officials, and punished officials and public servants who failed to comply with the law.

The term “sanctuary city” is used to describe cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration and deportation orders in order to protect residents who not have immigrated legally.

Judge Orlando L. Garcia of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas declared that SB4 violates the US constitution and struck down significant pieces of the law. He also suspended the law’s implementation as it travels to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on appeal by the state of Texas.

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“The government may disagree with certain viewpoints, but they cannot ban them just because they are inconsistent with the view that the government seeks to promote,” Judge Orlando L. Garcia wrote in his ruling. “SB 4 clearly targets and seeks to punish speakers based on their viewpoint on local immigration enforcement policy.”

The case will likely end up in the Supreme Court, where the outcome could shape immigration enforcement throughout the country. In the past, the Supreme Court has approved laws with similar intents, including Arizona’s notorious 2010 “show me your papers” law. Many other states and cities across the US have begun to draft or implement similar measures.

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The Texas law has become a flashpoint for immigration advocates who view SB4 as discriminatory and fear that it could usher in a witch hunt against Latinos.

Read More: Mayors of “Sanctuary Cities” Will Forgo Federal Funding to Defend Immigrant Rights

“The court properly struck down virtually all of what was perhaps the harshest anti-immigrant provision in modern times,” Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, told The New York Times.

The biggest cities in Texas including Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas joined the lawsuit against the state, which was brought by a series of civil rights groups including the ACLU. It was also supported by police chiefs, many of whom view SB4 as an impediment to their jobs.

“This is a victory for common sense and our San Antonio values,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement. ”This law would have diminished the capacity of our local police officers to keep our communities safe and would have targeted members of our community. Today, San Antonio gets to refocus its efforts on being the most inclusive and welcoming city in the nation.”

Supporters of SB4 argue that the judge’s ruling endangers the safety of citizens.

“Because of this ruling, gang members and dangerous criminals, like those who have been released by the Travis County sheriff, will be set free to prey upon our communities,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement.

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Throughout the country, sanctuary cities have become contentious battlegrounds, with even US President Donald Trump threatening to cut funding from them if they failed to comply with immigration officials.

This latest ruling bolsters the position of sanctuary cities for the time being.

“These bills are not about making us safer,” Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez of New York said in a statement. “They are about scapegoating, attacking and castigating immigrants. They are about sowing fear in immigrant communities and playing off prejudice and distrust.   We are a better nation than this.”

“We are a nation of immigrants,” she added. “And we will oppose these repugnant attacks on immigrant communities.”