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Texas Sanctuary Cities Law: What You Need to Know

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Sanctuary cities -- those that decline to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement -- have become a target under the Trump administration. The president attempted to punish sanctuary jurisdictions by withholding federal funds, but his executive order was blocked by a federal judge two weeks ago.

Now Texas has enacted a law aimed at punishing local law enforcement authorities who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents. In response, the ACLU has declared a travel warning for both U.S. citizens and immigrants in Texas, warning that their civil rights may be violated if they are detained by police. So what does The Lone Star State's new law actually do?

Gimme Sanctuary

There is no strict legal definition for a sanctuary city, but broadly speaking, law enforcement personnel in those jurisdictions forgo inquiring about immigration status during contact with civilians. This approach is designed to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crime, cooperate with local police, enroll their children in school, and otherwise make use of health and social services. While Texas has no jurisdictions that have officially declared themselves sanctuary cities, the law is aimed squarely at larger cities like Austin that have resisted federal immigration enforcement efforts.

New Rights, Requirements

Texas police officers are now allowed to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they detain, from arrests on criminal charges to stops for traffic violations. Derided as a "papers, please" provision, it turns every contact with law enforcement into the possibility for deportation. The new law also requires police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation.

Those chiefs weren't too pleased with the bill. The AP reported that every major police chief in Texas opposed the measure, claiming it would widen the existing gap between police officers and immigrant communities, lessening the likelihood immigrants would assist preventing or solving crimes and creating a class of silent victims. Opponents in the local law enforcement community also asserted that immigration was a federal obligation and worried the law would turn local police into de facto immigration agents, stretching meager municipal budgets even further.

No Protection From the Penalties

According to reports, law enforcement officials who refuse to comply with the law could be removed from office, fined, or even jailed. Much like Trump's executive order, Texas's sanctuary cities law will likely face a series of legal challenges. But until then, both police and undocumented immigrants could find themselves in the new law's crosshairs.

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