Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the Sanctuary City Ban, is a newly passed bill that aims to crack down on state immigration laws. It bans sanctuary cities, or those cities that do not fully cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement agents. The bill, signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, also imposes hefty fines on jurisdictions that fail to comply with federal immigration agents’ requests. The bill has far-reaching immigration implications. San Antonio, El Paso, and Austin have filed lawsuits against the state of Texas to stop the new law. Houston may be next to join the fight against SB 4.
Immigration agents and officers will have much more power in terms of law enforcement once SB 4 goes into effect (September 1, 2017). The law will allow them to make requests for inmates in custody without exceptions. Officers will also have the power to inquire about an individual’s immigration status, even during traffic stops. Anyone suspected of breaking the law will now face questions about his or her immigration status, regardless of the nature of the alleged crime.
Jurisdictions that do not comply with the new rules will face consequences, such as $25,000 in fines. Elected officials found guilty of going against the bill could face removal from office and criminal charges, such as a Class A misdemeanor. Officials in every Texas city will be required to turn over immigrants who are potentially undocumented, and to make requests for immigration status during detainments – or the officials could face legal consequences of their own.
The first lawsuit in reaction to SB 4 came from the small border city of El Cenizo, which claimed that the bill did not clearly define “sanctuary city,” and that it will tie up important law enforcement resources. San Antonio and Austin soon followed with their own lawsuits. City attorneys argue against every provision of the new senate bill and claim that it violates the First, Fourth, and 14th amendments. These amendments involve the rights of citizens to live free from unfounded searches and seizures, and free from questions about citizenship.
The cities involved in the lawsuit claim that empowering every law enforcement officer and city official, without restrictions, is a waste of resources that could lead to racial profiling. Several police departments throughout the state believe that SB 4 will create an atmosphere of distrust between officers and immigrant communities, leading to a rise in crime and resulting in the loss of assistance from immigrants in preventing and solving crime. The Austin Police Department has already met with immigrant communities to avoid discord.
Houston may be the next Texas city to join the lawsuits against the state. Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that the city is working on its own strategies to fight the bill. The mayor has spoken publicly against the bill and wrote a letter in opposition to its provisions. He said that now that the bill has passed into law, the city of Houston will look at its constitutionality and determine the next step. City officials may opt for litigation to fight the bill and keep it from dividing communities.
It is unclear whether SB 4 will come into effect in September as scheduled, considering the ongoing lawsuits against the state of Texas for passing it. The law may not leave the courtroom. Claims of the bill encouraging racial profiling, leading to distrust between the community and law enforcement, and violating at least three constitutional rights puts the bill on shaky ground in Texas. As more cities and districts speak up against SB 4 and join the litigation, its fate and its new immigration laws remain unknown.
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