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Battle Over Sanctuary City Ban Moves from TX Capitol to the Courts

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Opponents object that the Texas “show me your papers” law would allow police to question anyone they stop for traffic violations about their immigration status. (fstop123/GettyImages)
Opponents object that the Texas “show me your papers” law would allow police to question anyone they stop for traffic violations about their immigration status. (fstop123/GettyImages)
 By Mark Richardson - Producer, Contact
May 10, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas - The ink was barely dry on Gov. Greg Abbott's signature on Senate Bill 4, the Texas Sanctuary Cities bill, when the battle over it moved from the state Capitol to the courts.

Opponents such as the ACLU and MALDEF are preparing to file lawsuits against the so-called "show me your papers" law, while state officials already have filed a pre-emptive motion in federal court attempting to block those challenges. Terry Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, called the law "racist, wrongheaded and unconstitutional" and is promising a vigorous legal challenge.

"Our legal team is continuing to evaluate all possible challenges to SB 4, even as we speak," Burke said, "including a possible challenge before it goes into effect and challenges to how it will be applied after its effective date of Sept. 1."

The controversial measure bans "sanctuary cities" in Texas, removes limits on questioning people about their legal status and threatens law officers with jail for not cooperating with immigration officials. The bill is opposed by police chiefs and sheriffs in all major Texas cities, but the bill's sponsors are confident it will stand up in court.

On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an unusual pre-emptive motion in federal court, asking the judge to rule SB 4 constitutional and block all legal challenges.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said opponents plan to use resistance and civil disobedience to overturn the measure.

"Communities across Texas will be pressuring our local officials to not comply with this anti-immigrant, anti-democracy piece of legislation, to join litigation efforts to stop this in the courts and building on the organizing effort around the state of Texas," Libal said.

Critics of SB 4 compare it to Arizona's controversial House Bill 1070, which contained a "show me your papers" clause and other immigration restrictions. Most of that law was overturned in court, but not before boycotts cost Arizona more than $1 billion. Studies estimate that a similar law could cost Texas more than $8 billion in lost business.

The text of SB 4 is online at capitol.state.tx.us.

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