Anyone following the news recently has heard about the debate on the legitimacy of so-called “sanctuary cities”. A great deal of attention has been paid to the question of whether the federal government has any real legal authority to compel local law enforcement officers to aid immigration officials.
The legal argument in favor of sanctuary cities is quite simple: federal officers cannot commandeer local government officials to perform federal work. However, the federal government has recently sought other means of encouraging compliance with immigration agents. The DOJ’s most recent budget proposal has suggested tying federal dollars to local assistance.
The response from state and local governments has been mixed. In Texas, the State Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 4 (SB4) by a vote of 94 to 53. The bill has a wide range of effect and will dramatically alter Texas state law as it relates to immigration.
SB4’s Effect on Local Political Leaders and Law Enforcement
The bill seeks to enforce local compliance with federal law by threatening cities with criminal penalties for operating a “sanctuary city”. Under SB4, any local official who refuses to assist or aid a federal request to help enforce the nation’s immigration laws may be subject to criminal penalties or may be removed from office.
The law impacts both lower level officials such as police officers and upper level supervisors such as police captains, department heads, and elected politicians. Because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been ordered to pursue any and all leads on illegal immigrants living within the borders of the United States, local officials will be required to comply with federal dictates.
Penalties for non-compliance are steep. Where a local agent fails to cooperate with federal officials, the Texas state government will impose a fine on the local jurisdiction beginning at $1,000 per day of non-compliance. If non-compliance continues, fines can increase up to $25,000 per day.
Additionally, the wording of the law is so broad that assistance with federal enforcement requests could mean many different things indirectly related to ICE objectives. It is even possible that a politician’s statement on social media in support of sanctuary cities could result in a criminal violation of the new law.
SB4’s Effect on Immigrants and Texas Citizens
Under the new law, police officers may now inquire about the current immigration status of anyone that they either stop or arrest. This is true even where the encounter with law enforcement does not bear any relation to immigration matters.
Similarly, local officials will be required to share any immigration-related information to the proper federal officials when requested. Additionally, local officials must permit federal immigration authorities to question inmates held in local jails.
As a result of these new rules, it will become increasingly important for anyone, including U.S. citizens, to carry proof of identification in the event that a police officer or other law enforcement officer asks for proof of immigration status.
In the event that you or someone you know is stopped or questioned by police, the ACLU has compiled a brief list of your rights under SB4. The ACLU document is not legal advice, but merely a guide to help you understand any immigration-related questions.