States have the power to punish sanctuary cities within their borders and to force local police and sheriff’s departments to cooperate in turning over illegal immigrants to the federal government for deportation, an appeals court ruled Tuesday in upholding a Texas law.
The 3-0 decision by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks a major victory for President Trump, who has demanded punishment for sanctuary cities that thwart the federal government to protect illegal immigrants.
The judges didn’t go that far, but they did say the federal government’s detainer requests, which ask local governments to hold illegal immigrants for pickup, are legal. Localities can refuse based on their own resources, the court ruled — but the detainer requests are legal, the judges said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, praised the ruling.
“Law is in effect,” he said on Twitter.
Known as SB4, the legislation Mr. Abbott signed last year requires police to determine the legal status of those they encounter during their duties.
The law also punished local elected officials, police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders who enacted or carried out sanctuary policies that refused cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The law explicitly said local jurisdictions should comply with detainer requests.
Immigrant rights advocates and a number of Texas cities objected. They said detainers forced state or local police to hold illegal immigrants beyond their usual release time, infringing on their Fourth Amendment rights.
But Judge Edith H. Jones, writing the court’s opinion, said it’s not clear that illegal immigrants are covered by the Fourth Amendment. Beyond that, she said, federal detainer requests are legitimate.
She said that under the Trump administration’s policy, ICE officers must issue administrative warrants to accompany their detainer requests. Those warrants serve as statements of probable cause that local police can rely on to hold someone — just as they would do for any other police officer who makes a valid request.
“Here the ICE-detainer mandate itself authorizes and requires state officers to carry out federal detention requests,” Judge Jones wrote.
The court did rule part of Texas’ law that prohibited local elected officials from endorsing sanctuary policies to be problematic because it could be seen as an infringement on the officials’ free speech rights. But she said the state can prevent a locality from adopting or enforcing a sanctuary policy and can impose penalties on officials who attempt to create sanctuaries.
Sanctuary cities are jurisdictions that have policies limiting or, in their more extreme forms, thwarting cooperation with ICE deportation efforts.
The Obama administration opposed sanctuary cities, but Mr. Trump took that policy to a new level by going to war with sanctuaries, particularly in California.
His administration filed a lawsuit last week challenging three California sanctuary laws. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump — while visiting San Diego to tour prototypes of his border wall — said he wants Congress to strip federal grant money from sanctuaries in the upcoming spending bill.
Mr. Trump’s threats have been unpersuasive. The number of sanctuaries has expanded dramatically during his first 14 months in office.
Texas, however, had been a rare bright spot for the Trump administration. State officials have moved to back him up in opposing sanctuaries.
SB4 had been slated to go into effect Sept. 1, just days after a federal district judge issued a broad injunction.
Judge Orlando Garcia asserted that the law would erode trust between police and immigrant communities, making them less safe.
“The mandates, penalties and exacting punishments under SB4 upset the delicate balance between federal enforcement and local cooperation and violate the United States Constitution,” Judge Garcia wrote.
The 5th Circuit last year quickly stayed much of Judge Garcia’s blockade, and Tuesday’s ruling was an even bigger spanking for the Clinton-appointed judge.
Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who appeared before the 5th Circuit during oral arguments, said the court did leave open the possibility that Texas law could be illegal as it was carried out.
“We are exploring all legal options going forward. The court made clear that we remain free to challenge the manner in which the law is implemented, so we will be monitoring the situation on the ground closely,” he said.
He said localities can still object to detainer requests based on a lack of resources or other nonimmigration restraints.
Andre Segura, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said illegal immigrants still have the right to remain silent when questioned about their immigration status.
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