Last month, the governor of Texas signed Senate Bill 4 (SB-4), a measure allowing local police officers to ask for the citizenship status of anyone they arrest or detain and requiring local jurisdictions to honor detainers issued by ICE. The bill is a direct result of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez publicly criticizing President Trump’s executive order targeting sanctuary cities, stating that she will not abide by the order. (The state capital, Austin, is the county seat of Travis County.) Texas lawmakers responded with SB-4. The Texas law is similar to the Arizona law that made headlines a few years back – a law that was eventually struck down in federal court – with one major difference: the new law allows state authorities to punish any police chief or sheriff who tells their subordinates not to act as de facto immigration agents. Violators face steep fines as well as potential removal from office.
The requirement to honor detainers issued by ICE comes at a time when federal judges are scrutinizing the very practice. ICE detainers were recently held unconstitutional by a federal judge in Texas, and other district judges across the country have reached the same conclusion. However, ICE is still using the same practice, and SB-4 requires local jurisdictions to honor requests to hold immigrants beyond the completion of their sentence in order to allow ICE to take custody of them.
SB-4 is already being challenged in the federal courts, with El Paso County, Maverick County, and the City of El Cenizo all filing lawsuits against Texas. In the meantime, the American Immigration Lawyers Association has responded by relocating its annual conference from Texas in protest of the law stating, “our Board decided it could not ask AILA members, and in many cases their families, to attend a conference in the state which has passed SB-4 into law. SB-4 serves no legitimate purpose and undermines our country’s principles of fairness, due process, and equal treatment under the law.”