White House Joins Texas’ Fight Against Sanctuary Cities

(CN) – The Trump administration has joined the legal battle over Texas’ Senate Bill 4, announcing it would support the state’s defense of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law banning sanctuary cities.

On Friday, Department of Justice attorneys filed a statement of interest in the federal court case, which was filed in San Antonio last month, and is set to have its first hearing Monday.

Several Texas cities, including San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and a small border town called El Cenizo, are suing the state to block the implementation of SB 4, which would punish local officials if they refuse to comply with detainer requests from immigration officers.

A detainer, or immigration hold, is a request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also called ICE, that local law enforcement refuse to release a prisoner even though there may be no state or local charges pending against him or her.

Under SB 4, state and local government officials, including college campus police, who refuse to comply with detainer requests would be subject to Class A misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $25,000 a day.

The new law also allows officers to question the immigration status of any “lawfully detained” person, including people stopped for minor offenses such as jaywalking or running a stop sign.

Opponents of the law, who call it the “show me your papers bill,” believe it’s anti-immigrant, racially motivated, and unconstitutional.

But the Trump administration argues that SB 4 is not preempted by the Supremacy Clause, is not inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment, and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

In the statement of interest, the DOJ says that although the plaintiffs may disagree with the state legislature’s “policy determinations” in enacting SB 4, nothing in federal immigration law actually prohibits a state from directing local law enforcement officers to cooperate with the federal government.

“The Tenth Amendment does not prohibit a state from voluntarily cooperating with the federal government and directing its subdivisions and localities to participate in that cooperation,” the DOJ said in the statement. “For Tenth Amendment purposes, whether cooperation is initiated by the state or locality, both are equally voluntary.”

The statement goes on to say that SB 4 does not violate the Fourth Amendment because federal detainer requests are supported by a separate finding of probable cause.

“SB 4 also provides that a law enforcement agency is not required to comply with a detainer request when the subject of a detainer provides proof of citizenship or lawful immigration status, mitigating any concern that it violates the Fourth Amendment,” the DOJ argues.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Friday that the DOJ “fully supports” Texas’ efforts to defend SB 4, because of the “strong federal interest in facilitating the state and local cooperation that is critical in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws.”

“President Trump has made a commitment to keep America safe and to ensure cooperation with federal immigration laws,” Sessions said. “Texas has admirably followed his lead by mandating state-wide cooperation with federal immigration laws that require the removal of illegal aliens who have committed crimes.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton expressed his appreciation to the Trump White House in a statement Friday.

“It’s reassuring to know that the Trump administration believes in upholding the Constitution and defending the rule of law, and I’m grateful for the DOJ’s assistance in helping my office defend the lawful Senate Bill 4,” Paxton said. “Enforcing immigration law helps prevent dangerous criminals from being released into our communities. We look forward to working with DOJ lawyers to see that Senate Bill 4 is fully honored in Texas.”

A day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law on May 21 — live on Facebook, with no prior announcement — Paxton and the state, anticipating a flood of legal challenges, filed a preemptive lawsuit asking a federal judge in Austin to declare the law constitutional.

On the same day, El Cenizo, population 3,300, and neighboring Maverick County, filed the legal challenge against SB 4, which the DOJ is now fighting.

An El Cenizo ordinance prohibits city employees and officers in its small volunteer police force from asking people about their immigration status. The policy was enacted to maintain the trust of the community and ensure that all residents, including undocumented immigrants, feel safe reporting crimes, seeking health care and attending school, the complaint states.

“The loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars to plaintiffs and millions in local funds … that support vital services, together with the loss of community trust, and the loss of plaintiff’s sovereign authority to set and follow its own laws in matters appropriately and historically within the control of local government, are imminently at risk,” El Cenizo and Maverick County said in the complaint.

Several other cities have joined El Cenizo’s suit since, including El Paso, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. On Wednesday, the Houston City Council voted to join the lawsuit, but has not yet filed a motion to intervene.

Raul Reyes, El Cenizo’s 33-year-old mayor and a plaintiff in the case, told South Texas news channel KSAT 12 earlier this week that he wasn’t surprised by the Trump administration’s interest in the case, but was disappointed.

“I just think the Trump administration should focus on fixing the broken immigration system, rather than interfere with what happens in Texas,” Reyes said.

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