Houston, TX (Law Firm Newswire) August 10, 2017 - In May 2017, Texas passed Senate Bill 4 (SB4), banning sanctuary cities and prohibiting elected officials from refusing to comply with the ban. The law does not come into effect until September 1, 2017.
Senate Bill 4 (SB4) penalizes law enforcement officials, such as constables, sheriffs, police chiefs and other local leaders that do not co-operate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities or ban rank-and-file officers from asking about immigration status. Those in law enforcement have concerns that the bill forces them to focus on immigration violations rather than other serious crimes.
The legislation means elected or appointed officials can be removed from office if they prohibit and/or limit enforcement or cooperation with ICE agents, and the law imposes fines ranging between $1,000 to $1,500 for the first violation and $25,000 to $25,500 for each one thereafter. Sheriffs, constables, police chiefs, and other local leaders can also face misdemeanor charges if they do not comply with the legislation.
While the legislation does not mandate police officers to ask about immigration status, it does impose a penalty on those higher up in the chain-of-command who intend to stop their officers from asking about immigration status. Immigrant rights’ activists fear racial profiling.
In Austin, Mayor Steve Adler and the local sheriff opposed SB4 since its inception. The Sheriff publicly stated in January 2017 that she would no longer honor ICE detention requests. As a result of that refusal, Governor Abbott sliced $1.5 million in funding to Travis County. In May 2017, Texas proceeded to sue Mayor Adler, the city of Austin, the Sheriff and Travis County asking the federal court to uphold SB4’s constitutionality.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked City Council to vote on whether or not to join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB4. Council voted to join the lawsuit against the State. Houston joins Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso County and several other local governments and non-profits challenging the bill.
“Aside from the lawsuit, there is possibly another way for sanctuary cities to refuse to comply with federal immigrant reporting laws,” indicates respected Houston immigration attorney, Annie Banerjee. Look to the city of Denver who has found a legal loophole to avoid the loss of funds from the federal government.
Currently, under federal law, state and local authorities must share intelligence about immigrants’ legal status/citizenship. One requirement involves reporting immigrants who have committed a municipal crime with a 365-day sentence. There are a number of petty misdemeanors that would qualify for such a jail sentence. In the past, those immigrants would have been reported to local municipalities, but not likely deported.
Under the current White House administration, legal and illegal residents have been labelled as aggravated felons and deported and sanctuary cities face losing federal funding for not reporting. Denver’s legal loophole applies to crimes with lesser sentences of under 365-days. A full year in jail would still apply to serious offences, such as violent assaults and sexual assaults. Lesser crimes, such as shoplifting and trespassing carry a sentence of a maximum of 300 days.
“In other words, the change in sentencing laws in Denver permit the city to still be eligible for federal funding, but removes them from playing a role in immigration enforcement,” added Banerjee.
What will happen in Texas? For now, that may be a wait and see proposition.
Law Offices of Annie Banerjee
131 Brooks Street, Suite #300
Sugar Land, Texas 77478
Phone: (281) 242-9139