A Federal Judge Has Temporarily Halted Texas’ Anti-Immigrant SB 4 Law

Lead Photo: Commons "Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas” by World Travel & Tourism Council is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Commons "Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas” by World Travel & Tourism Council is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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Four months ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott abruptly signed Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) into law.  Without prior notification, he gave life to the bill – which intended to quell sanctuary cities – during a Facebook Live session. Since then, activists and politicians have worked to put a stop to the discriminatory bill. On Wednesday, two days before it went into effect, Judge Orlando L. García of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction as a lawsuit questioning the legality of the ban goes forward, according to The New York Times. Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and other Texas cities challenged the law in a suit.

The injunction temporarily prohibits the state from enacting SB4, which has earned comparisons to Arizona’s “show me your papers” law (SB 1070). It would allow police officers to ask children about their immigration status, encourage racial profiling because of a “show me your papers” clause, and give law enforcement permission to target the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants at homeless shelters and domestic violence centers.

SB 4 would also force all officials to carry out anti-immigrant policies. Failure to comply with the provisions laid out in the bill could result in a penalty of $1,500 for the first time, and then $25,500 for each subsequent offense.

García seemingly blocked three parts of the law, according to the NYT. García agreed with the plaintiff’s lawyers, who said that having the state try to keep local officials from speaking out against SB4 violated their First Amendment rights. “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,” the judge wrote. “SB 4 clearly targets and seeks to punish speakers based on their viewpoint on local immigration enforcement of immigration laws.”

SB 4 aimed to turn the police and elected officials into immigration officers by threatening to remove them from office or charging them with a misdemeanor crime if they tried to “materially limit” enforcement. Judge Garcia said the language in this part of the bill was not only vague because it didn’t define what “materially limit” meant, it also “ascribes criminal and quasi-criminal penalties based upon violations of an inscrutable standard, in a manner that invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against disfavored localities.”

Texas will appeal Judge García’s decision. Gov. Abbott stated, “US Supreme Court precedent for laws similar to Texas’ law are firmly on our side. This decision will be appealed immediately and I am confident Texas’ law will be found constitutional and ultimately be upheld.”

For now, the injunction is providing some relief to Texas’ undocumented community, but not peace of mind because the battle is far from over.