Earlier this month, on March 13, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling declaring that Texas’ Senate Bill 4 (SB4) should be allowed to take full effect.  This ruling reversed the San Antonio federal judge’s injunction that initially blocked major components of the law from going into effect last August.


SB4 and Immigration Enforcement

So what, again, is SB4 about?  SB4 is Texas’ immigration enforcement legislation that has been touted by lawmakers and journalists as the so-called “sanctuary cities ban.”  The law requires police chiefs, sheriffs, and other law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officials, and allows local police to question arrested individuals about their immigration status.


“Sanctuary Cities”

The New York Times credits SB4 as the response to “the proliferation of sanctuary cities.”  Being an immigration attorney I wondered how I had never known of these safe-haven jurisdictions where federal immigration enforcement was being shut out and immigrants were shielded from prosecution for removal by ICE.  Turns out, there is no such thing.  ICE can and does enforce federal immigration laws in all of the so-called sanctuary cities and jurisdictions.

So if ICE is operating in cities like San Francisco and New York, how are these locations still carrying the label of ”sanctuary city”?  Like any good half-truth, generally speaking, the labeling stems from the policies many of these jurisdictions have adopted that limit how much their local law enforcement officials cooperate with federal immigration officials.  Upon further digging, I found that many of these policies were actually adopted during the Obama Administration – an era that saw the highest deportation numbers in all U.S. history, to date.


Federal and Civil

One constant in many of these immigration policies is the emphasis on ensuring immigration enforcement remains a federal responsibility and would not fall under local law enforcement’s jurisdiction.  That is an important distinction because federal immigration enforcement is civil, not criminal.  Individuals who are placed in removal proceedings (deportation), are prosecuted under civil law, not criminal law.

Interestingly, in the Texas SB4 ruling, one part of the bill is still on hold:  the provision that punishes local officials from “adopting, enforcing, or endorsing” policies that specifically prohibit or limit enforcement of immigration laws.  While the opinion was clear that the injunction applies specifically to the word “endorse,” it is a noteworthy distinguishing line drawn by the court.

Whether SB4 will result in increased immigration enforcement in Texas, remains to be seen.  At the end of the day, it seems the same lines remain in place – only emphasized.

By Published On: March 26, 2018Categories: ImmigrationTags:


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Michelle V. Alonzo is a Shareholder in the Cowles and Thompson Immigration Practice Group.