A US judge has halted portions of a Texas law that punishes cities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The judge ruled that the strict immigration enforcement law would "erode public trust."
San Antonio's federal court ruled on Wednesday that Texas' tough "sanctuary cities" law likely violates the constitution and blocked parts of the law two days before it was to take effect.
"The court cannot and does not second-guess the legislature, Chief US District Court Judge Orlando Garcia wrote in a 94-page decision.
"However, the state may not exercise its authority in a manner that violates the United States Constitution."
The new law, considered one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration efforts in the country, would punish any jurisdiction in Texas that refuses to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
It would have made it possible for police chiefs and sheriffs to be removed from office and face criminal charges for refusing to hold immigrants in their jails until federal agents could pick them up for deportation.
The measure, called SB 4, also would have allowed police to ask about people's immigration status during routine tasks such as traffic stops.
Censure from rights groups and businesses
The law had been hailed by US President Donald Trump's administration but harshly criticized by immigrant rights groups who say it would force people to "show papers" based on their appearance.
"This law would have essentially created an immigration police state in Texas and the court properly struck it down in all critical respects," Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in a statement.
The ACLU challenged the Texas measure in court along with the four largest cities in Texas – San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas. Wednesday's decision now buys them time for the case to proceed.
The cities argued that the wording of the law is vague and would have an alarming effect on immigrant communities. Texan business groups also opposed the bill, saying it could cause a labor shortage in industries like construction.
In his ruling, Garcia wrote that that there "is overwhelming evidence by local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB 4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe."
He added that "localities will suffer adverse economic consequences which, in turn, will harm the state of Texas."
Immigration status worries in Harvey's wake
The measure easily passed through Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature despite months of protests.
Conservatives argue that a crackdown on immigration is necessary to enforce the rule of law, while Republican Governor Greg Abbott has insisted that only those who break the law have anything to worry about.
Anxieties about the law flared in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Over the past few days, officials in Houston have sought to assure families fleeing the floodwaters that shelters would not ask for their immigration status.
rs/rt (AP, Reuters)