Lawyers for Texas cities fighting the state’s tough new immigration law argued Monday that it would force local law enforcement to help federal officials carry out mass deportations.
The lawyers challenging the law, which is backed by the Trump administration, urged U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to issue a preliminary injunction to keep it from taking effect Sept. 1 and said it is unconstitutional on numerous grounds.
The statute calls for harsh penalties against localities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents, including stiff fines, jail time for police chiefs and ousting elected and appointed officials from their posts.
“They are setting up a situation that incentivizes people to enforce immigration law to the maximum,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU.
Garcia, at times pressing his fingertips against his temples, peppered lawyers with questions about the effect of the state’s law, which opponents say is vague and financially burdensome and would have far-reaching effects on the state’s residents, students, businesses and schools.
Even cities that do not consider themselves sanctuary cities and that cooperate with ICE have condemned the law as vague and financially burdensome and potentially dangerous to police officers.
Gov. Greg Abbott, R, said he signed the law to promote public safety and ensure that criminals are deported. He and his supporters have cited cases in which illegal immigrants allegedly committed heinous crimes, including murder, after they were released instead of being turned over to immigration officials.
William Deane, a lawyer for the state, defended the law during Monday’s hearing by saying that Texas law already bans racial profiling. He and the rest of the state’s legal team will lay out their case when the hearing resumes after lunch recess.
The legal fight pits border towns and big cities against the Republican-controlled state government. The plaintiffs say the law is another example in a long history of discrimination in Texas against immigrants and Latinos, who are the state’s largest minority group and account for more than 60 percent of the population in San Antonio.
The small border city of El Cenizo and other plaintiffs oppose the law because it requires them to detain immigrants who have been arrested for local crimes — including minor traffic offenses — so that federal deportation agents can take them into custody.
Raúl Reyes, the mayor of El Cenizo and the lead plaintiff, arrived at the federal courthouse and said he was “a little bit nervous and excited” to be at the forefront of what he called a civil rights battle.
“This is a very important and significant case, not only for Texas but also for the entire country,” he said.
Busloads of demonstrators from across Texas rallied outside, wearing red T-shirts and carrying signs denouncing the law.
“I really feel like this is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Delia Garza, the first Latina member of the Austin City Council, said Sunday. “This feels like an attack on Latinos.”
Plaintiffs in the court case include El Paso County, a sheriff who is a former Border Patrol agent, and the cities of Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Their lawyers argue the law is unconstitutional on numerous grounds and say it muzzles critics, illegally targets immigrants and large Latino populations, and is an “extraordinary intrusion” on the rights of local governments to decide how they will control their budgets, police and jails.
Houston, the state’s largest city, has said it also supports the lawsuit.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, R, maintains that the law passes constitutional muster and aims to ensure that violent criminals and others who are arrested for wrongdoing are deported from the United States.
Paxton said in court filings that the law doesn’t require police officers to initiate immigration interrogations or arrests. Rather, it asks police and jailers to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the same way that they do with other law enforcement agencies. He said the law protects victims and witnesses.
Garcia ruled in a separate case this month that a county jail in Texas had illegally detained an immigrant on behalf of ICE.
Although buoyed by that decision, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the new case say the issues involving the Texas law are broader.
“Upholding the law would send a terrible signal to other states that they can enact similar or even more draconian laws,” Gelernt said in an interview.
Several states have expressed support for the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, and some have banned “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with ICE.
But hundreds of cities, towns and law enforcement agencies nationwide have enacted policies to protect immigrants from deportation, particularly those detained for minor offenses.
Trump campaigned against sanctuary cities and on Jan. 25 issued an executive order to punish them. That order has been temporarily blocked in federal court in San Francisco.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has moved its 2018 conference from Grapevine, Texas., to San Francisco because of the law.