No Decision Following Testimony on Legality of 'Sanctuary Cities'

No decision on the fate of the new Texas law banning 'Sanctuary Cities' following a day of sometimes emotional testimony in San Antonio federal court, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Lawyers for the border town of El Cenizo, who sued to block the new law one day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed it, later to be joined by San Antonio, Austin, Houston, El Paso, Dallas and Bexar County, made two key arguments in hours of testimony before U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia.

First, they argued that the tough sanctions imposed under the law, technically known as SB 4, provide 'incentives' for police to target illegal immigrants.  One lawyer said the portion of the law that allows local officials to lose their jobs and face personal fines of up to $25,000 and jail time will prompt them to lean to the side of strict enforcement of immigration law, leading to an 'Immigration Police State.'

El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes said, just like states cannot declare war or dispatch ambassadors, states cannot and should not come up with a patchwork of different means of enforcement of immigration law.

"Immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, not local police departments," Reyes said.  "To threaten police officers with jail time, that is very dangerous."

Some lawyers argued that the way the law is written, officials could be thrown in jail just for criticizing it.  The law bars public officials from 'endorsing' policies that encourage illegal immigration.  That prompted a dramatic moment when Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff took the stand for the plaintiffs.  When asked how he wanted be referred to, Wolff snapped 'it may be as former Bexar County Judge,' adding that the law prevents elected officials from exercising their First Amendment rights.

Concerns were also raised about whether elected officials who have nothing at all to do with immigration enforcement, like officials of community college districts, could be punished for expressing their opinion about the bill.

The other key argument is that the provision of the law that allows police officers to 'question people who have been legally detained' about their immigration status will make the community less safe.

Attorney Jose Garza, who represents El Paso County, cites the case o ICE agents entering the El Paso County Courthouse earlier this year.

"The ICE agents went into a protective order court and snatched up one of the victims," Garza said, asking how deporting women who apply for protective orders against abusing spouses will make the state safer.

Reyes agreed.

"This is not a bill that protects communities and keeps them safe," he said.  "That is not the intention of the Texas government.  There are clear violations to Texas Constitutional law."

But State Sen. Charles Perry, who wrote SB 4, says the public 'spoke loud and clear' during the debate, that they want the state protected agaisnt illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

"The public understands that law enforcement officials should not help those found guilty of serious crimes, such as sexual assault and burglary, evade federal immigration detainers," Perry said.

He blamed 'misinformation and fear mongering' surrounding the bill.

Several questions were raised in court about what opponents see as 'vagueness' surround the bill.  Judge Garcia grilled attorneys for the state about who can be asked about their immigration status if a car filled with people is pulled over by police, and was told the law does not specify whether just the driver, or all passengers in the car, even those who are not 'legally detained' can be asked.  Lawyers said that would lead to a situation where officers may 'ask people on one side of the street about their immigration status, but not people on the other side of the street."

"At the end, it is all going to come down to the way the person looks, the way she dresses and talks, and the color of his skin," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said.  "And that, your honor, is racial profiling."

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