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A federal court has ruled that part of Senate Bill 4 (the “anti-sanctuary cities” law) can go into effect while a case over the legality of the law itself plays out in court. In a Monday ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' three-judge panel decided that it's legal to require law enforcement agencies to comply with prisoner hold requests from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Officially called detainer requests, these asks come after someone is arrested and booked in a local jail for any type of crime. In the booking process, the prisoner's citizenship status is entered into a government database, where ICE can decide whether or not that person is worth picking up and deporting. If ICE decides they are, the jail must obey this "detainer request" even if the person has paid bail or their charges have been dropped.
Detainer requests are one of the reasons so many cities, counties, and law enforcement officials have been against SB 4, since holding people in jail even when they're legally free to go butts heads with the Constitution — and it's an economic burden.
In 2015 alone, Texas honored 45,856 ICE detainers, totaling 1,001,074 days in county jails, which collectively cost county jails $61 million, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Monday's ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals argues this specific piece of SB 4 “does not require detention pursuant to every ICE detainer request; rather, the … provision mandates that local agencies cooperate according to existing ICE detainer practice and law.”
Basically, the law doesn't force law enforcement officials to comply with every detainer request ICE punts their way. The rest of SB4's provisions — like jail time for officers who tell employees they can't ask members of the public about their immigration status — remain in place.
Texas' largest cities and counties, along with a handful of local officials, have sued the state for signing SB 4 into law earlier this summer. That case has yet to officially go to trial.
This recent decision only addresses whether or not SB 4 can be the law of the land while this lawsuit is hashed out in court.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar told the Current in August that he only follows detainer requests if they come with a warrant. After making that clear to ICE agents, Salazar said he hasn't received any warrantless requests from the feds — meaning this decision won't change too much in Bexar County.
Immigrant rights lawyers involved in the SB 4 lawsuit don't seem too concerned about the court's decision. For now.
“The court panel made clear that the scope of SB 4’s mandated compliance with detainer requests does not include actually detaining immigrants where the law would prohibit continued detention," said Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF, the group representing the City of San Antonio in the case.
"This preserves the sanctity of the Fourth Amendment in protecting the rights of everyone, including immigrants.”