Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Texas One-Ups Trump, Vows Jail for Sanctuary City Officials

  • State sues immigration advocacy groups in preemptive strike
  • Governor says officials don’t get to ‘pick’ which laws to obey

Texas kicked off a court battle in giving itself power to jail local officials who provide safe harbor for undocumented immigrants, which goes further than President Donald Trump in his attempt to punish sanctuary cities.

The day after Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a law making it a criminal offense for sheriffs and police chiefs to resist cooperating with U.S. immigration officials, the state sued the city of Austin to enforce the new policy. The lawsuit is a preemptive strike against advocacy groups that have pledged legal challenges against the measure.

“Elected officials and law enforcement agencies don’t get to pick and choose which laws they will obey,” Abbott said in a Facebook Live post Sunday when he signed the bill into law. “Citizens expect law enforcement officers to enforce the law, and citizens deserve for law breakers to face legal consequences.”

The move by Texas to criminalize non-cooperation comes less than two weeks after a federal judge in San Francisco blocked the Trump administration from withholding certain U.S. funds from regions that decline to assist stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws leading to deportation. The judge made a preliminary finding that the president’s Jan. 25 order violates the U.S. Constitution by threatening to deprive cities of funding for local programs.

Opponents of the Texas law claim it will alienate the immigrant community from law enforcement and subject citizens of Hispanic origin to racial profiling. They say the “show me your papers” language in the legislation lets law enforcement officers inquire about immigration status during routine encounters, such as traffic stops, and doesn’t protect people from such questioning while they’re visiting domestic abuse shelters or public schools.

Advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union are urging county sheriffs and city police chiefs in Texas not to comply with the law.

‘Inherently Racist’

“This law is inherently racist and is about racism; it invites racial profiling against people of color by law enforcement,” Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU in Texas, said on a conference call with reporters. “By giving local police the green light about a person’s immigration status, we know from experience that citizens and non-citizens will be held unlawfully for extended periods of time while their status is checked."

The law prohibits local law enforcement agencies from “adopting, enforcing or endorsing a policy that limits the enforcement of federal immigration laws,” Texas said in Monday’s court filing. The statute prohibits discrimination in the enforcement of immigration laws by “race, color, religion, language or national origin” unless permitted by the state and federal constitutions.

Texas is asking a federal judge in Austin to declare the measure constitutional. It’s set to take effect Sept. 1.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, the top elected official in the county that includes San Antonio, spoke against the law at a Friday rally, flanked by his county’s sheriff and district attorney, who also oppose it.

“The sheriff could spend a year in jail per violation if we don’t enforce this to their liking,” Wolff said.

The law also provides fines of as much as $1,500 for local law enforcement leaders who refuse to cooperate with federal requests to detain immigrants and $25,500 for repeat offenders.

The case is Texas v. Travis County, 1:17-cv-00425, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).

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