Analysis of Texas’ SB4 Partial Injunction

Last Updated

August 31, 2017

A federal court judge has ruled against Texas in the landmark case, City of El Cenizo et al v. Texas regarding the state’s anti-immigrant law, commonly known as SB4. The law requires (among other things) local law enforcement to comply with voluntary ICE detainer requests to hold people suspected of civil immigration violation beyond the time they are supposed to be released from state custody.

The law also bans policies and patterns of practices that by local officials that  limit cooperation with ICE in their enforcement effots. It imposes civil and criminal penalities upon officials for failing to act as ICE agents.

The court ruling could not have come at a better time when many people in Texas, including non-citizens, require shelter, medical assistance, and other critical care. This injunction will allow families to seek the help they desperately need to recover from the effects of hurricane.

City of El Cenzio et al v. Texas Overview

  • On August 30, 2017, the Western District Court of San Antonio granted an order partly enjoining Texas Senate Bill 4, or SB4, from being implemented on Sept 1. On May 8, 2017, the City of El Cenzio filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB4, which imposes immigration enforcement duties upon local law enforcement in Texas, and penalizes officials for failing to perform those duties. The city also asked the Court to block the entire law from taking effect until the constitutional issue is resolved. Several other localities including the city of Houston, Travis county and Harris County also field motions to enjoin the law until the constitutional questions are resolved..
  • The Court found that the city failed to justify a full injunction; however, the Court found there was sufficient grounds to grant a partial injunction. The court held that certain parts of SB4 would interfere with the federal government’s authority to control immigration law, which will result in constitutional violations. The Court also found that enforcing the mandatory detainer provisions of the law will “inevitably violate the 4th Amendment.”
  • The Court also concluded that considering the potential constitutional violations, and the fact that the plaintiffs include  five of the largest six cities in Texas – representing a cumulative population thatexceeds six million people – it serves  public  interest to block the law from going into effect before Sept. 1 to protect constitutional rights and maintain public trust in local police. The Court acknowledged the “overwhelming evidence” by local law enforcement that enforcing this law will erode public trust and make communities less safe.
  • Important results of the ruling (not exhaustive):
    • Local law enforcement are not required to hold people in custody to comply with ICE detainers
    • Cities and localities can direct their officers to not serve as immigration officers
    • Police officers cannot arrest people for being undocumented
  • What it means for immigrants during this difficult time
    • Immigrants can get the help they need. This allows immigrants to come forward to disaster relief assistance without fear of being turned over to ICE for immigration violation. Reports of ICE targeting undocumented immigrants in Houston, asking them to show their papers circulated. However, local law enforcement refuted those reports. With the court order, immigrants can go to shelters, food banks, and other relief centers for assistance without fear of exposing their immigration status
    • Public safety is a priority. This also allows local law enforcement to protect and serve the entire community during this challenging time, without exposing themselves to criminal and civil penalties. Recently, the city of Houston mayor urged immigrants to come forward for help and reassured them that they would not be turned over to ICE. This court ruling allows local officials and emergency response teams to focus on rescuing people and providing them with the resources to help them recover from the hurricane.
    • Resources will go toward rescuing people affected by the hurricane. The ruling essentially allows law enforcement to divert critically needed resources to responding to the needs of Texas’ residents instead of spending them on investigating immigration violation and holding people in custody for ICE.
    • Court ruling protects human life and dignity. With the injunction in place, the people of Texas (and the entire country) can focus on protecting the most vulnerable people in our society at this moment – those who have lost loved ones, their homes and possessions, and much more due to the hurricane. Those affected include U.S. citizens as well as non-citizens and we as a nation are morally obligated to ensure that they feel supported through this unprecedented and difficult experience.

The ruling further demonstrates that current immigration enforcement policies raise serious constitutional issues. They threaten individual rights and severely interfere with local officials, including law enforcement ability to effectively keep their communities safe. This ruling amplifies the messaging other courts have consistently put out – that honoring blanket ICE detainer request is unconstitutional and that only the federal government has jurisdiction to enforcement immigration laws.

The ruling also highlights the importance of establishing sanctuary jurisdictions across the country. Many immigrants need critical local services such as police protection, medical services, counseling – or as we are seeing in Texas today – shelter, clean water, and food. Forcing local officers to act as ICE agents not only erodes public trust, it deters immigrants from seeking assistance to survive and recover from natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey. U.S. citizens who do not want to expose undocumented relatives to deportation may not contact authorities and volunteers for assistance.