Texas’ Senate Bill 4 (SB4), the state’s punitive, anti-immigrant law slated to go into effect on September 1, was largely blocked by a Texas Judge late Wednesday evening.

SB4 was passed into law by the Texas Legislature in 2017 seeking to force Texas cities and counties to enforce federal immigration law, as well as punish local elected officials and government employees who do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement with fines, firing, and jail time.

As a result of Wednesday’s ruling: 

  • Texas cities and counties can direct their officers not to serve in the role of immigration officers.
  • Local jails are not required to hold individuals based only on a request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Local officials and employees can criticize SB4 without fear of punishment.

In addition, a local police officer can ask an individual about immigration status, but the individual does not have to answer, and the police officer cannot arrest the individual simply for being undocumented.

MALDEF filed the lawsuit and its President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz noted after Wednesday’s ruling that:

“By enjoining the bulk of SB 4, the federal court has preserved the ability of elected officials, sheriffs, and police chiefs to prevent their police forces from becoming untrained and unrestrained enforcers of federal immigration law. While the court did not stop police officers from asking about immigration during a lawful detention, officers would be wise to avoid such inquiries because they could trigger a successful challenge to the detention itself, potentially jeopardizing legitimate work by local police.”

While most sections of SB4 have been blocked, other parts will go into effect including the provision that forces local police departments to allow officers to ask about the immigration status of residents during a detention or arrest.

Yet, according to Vox, advocates still see the ruling as a victory:

“The cities and advocacy groups that sued over SB4, however, don’t see this as a huge setback. They argue that in practice, many police officers are already asking people about their immigration status, so SB4 doesn’t change much.

The parts of the law the plaintiffs were worried about weren’t the parts that assisted cops who wanted to help enforce federal immigration law, but the parts that punished cops and departments who wanted to limit their cooperation with the feds to protect their relations with immigrant communities. And on that count, they believe they’ve won a huge victory.”

As Hurricane Harvey ravaged large swaths of Texas, advocates feared that the immigrant community would be too afraid to come forward and ask for help from law enforcement during the hurricane due to their legal status. Hopefully this ruling will give the community some sense of relief as they struggle to recover from the hurricane.

Photo by Kevin Dooley