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Texas AG files suit against Austin to enforce new sanctuary cities ban

Texas AG Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against the city of Austin, Travis County and several local officials over the new sanctuary cities ban. The suit is a proactive measure to allow the U.S. District Court to uphold the constitutionality of the new law. (Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Sunday against the city of Austin as part of his effort to enforce a new state ban on sanctuary cities. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the ban, known as SB 4, into law the same day.

The lawsuit, which also names Travis County and a slew of local officials, including the Austin mayor and city council members, as defendants, is a proactive measure to allow the U.S. District Court to uphold the constitutionality of the new law in a single sweeping decision and avoid individual lawsuits challenging the legislation.

“SB 4 is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” Paxton said in a statement. "SB 4 guarantees cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement to protect Texans. Unfortunately, some municipalities and law enforcement agencies are unwilling to cooperate with the federal government and claim that SB 4 is unconstitutional."

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, one of the defendants in the case, told KXAN-TV that she plans to be compliant with the new rules.

"While I hate seeing a state law like this come to pass, I have always followed the law and that will not change," she said.

In January, Hernandez instructed her deputies and jailers that they were not allowed to ask anyone's immigration status and imposed a limit on the amount of help her department gave to federal immigration enforcement agents.

Austin City Councilwoman Delia Garza said she believes the lawsuit is a sign that she is doing the right thing by standing in opposition to it.

"I think when the Texas attorney general is suing you, you are doing something right, and I think that we have often said that Austin is a welcoming city, and we often said we disagree with SB 4 and its intent,” Garza said.

"I think this sends a message that Hispanics are not welcome in Texas and Hispanics are not valued," she added, though the bill only targets illegal immigrants.

The new law banning sanctuary cities also allows law enforcement officers to ask the immigration status of anyone they stop, regardless of their jurisdiction's previous stance on the issue. Also, officers who don't cooperate with federal immigration agents could face fines up to $25,000 per day and jail time.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said in a statement that the department is still reviewing the law:

The Austin Police Department has worked hard to build and maintain trust, communication and stronger relationships with our communities through outreach programs and community policing. This effort and engagement will continue. With the passage of this law, we want our minority community to maintain their trust in us, if you see or are a victim of a criminal act we want you to call us and report it.

Paxton is urging all local law enforcement agencies to comply with the new law.

"Governments throughout Texas have a clear duty to continue holding undocumented and suspected criminal aliens pursuant to ICE detainers," Paxton said, KXAN reported. "This is a public safety issue that requires swift resolution. If a Texas sheriff or other law enforcement authority cannot lawfully honor an ICE detainer, dangerous people will slip through the cracks of the justice system and back into our communities. As a nation of laws, it is imperative that SB 4 is fully honored in Texas."

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