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US appeals court gives Texas major victory in fight to ban 'sanctuary cities

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that most of Texas' controversial law banning "sanctuary cities" can take effect. The ruling was a major victory for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott (above). (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that most of Texas’s controversial ban on “sanctuary cities” can take effect while additional legal proceedings move forward in court. The ruling was a major victory for Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Texas Republicans.

What was the law in question?

The law, Senate Bill 4, requires local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and allows police officers to question the immigration status of any person they detain and arrest.

The law was passed last May in response to a growing number of municipalities nationwide passing laws forbidding law enforcement from working with federal immigration authorities.

What did the court rule?

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit unanimously upheld the majority of the law and said it can be enforced while additional legal challenges proceed.

However, the court put the brakes on a provision that would punish local officials for "endorsing” laws that prohibit or limit the enforcement of SB4, according to the Texas Tribune. As stated in the law, local officials could be fined, jailed, or even subject to removal from office had they limited the law’s enforcement.

Prohibiting what local officials "endorse," the court said, is a violation of the First Amendment.

The judges also rejected the plaintiffs' claim the law would open the door to racial profiling and said the plaintiffs' overall arguments against the law were weak on their face, save for the First Amendment claim against prohibiting officials from "endorsing" laws counter to SB4.

"The plaintiffs have not made a showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of any of their constitutional claims. There is no merit in their remaining arguments, and none of the other challenged provisions of SB4 facially violate the Constitution," Judge Edith Jones wrote in the ruling.

The ruling effectively overturned the ruling of U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia last August, who essentially killed SB4. He ruled at the time:

There is overwhelming evidence by local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe. There is also ample evidence that localities will suffer adverse economic consequences which, in turn, harm the state of Texas.

What was the response?

Abbott praised the ruling on Twitter:

According to the New York Times, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement:

Senate Bill 4 is lawful, constitutional and protects the safety of law enforcement officers and all Texans. Enforcing immigration law prevents the release of individuals from custody who have been charged with serious crimes. Dangerous criminals shouldn’t be allowed back into our communities to possibly commit more crimes.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing some of the plaintiffs, said they will monitor the situation "closely" moving forward.

"The court made clear that we remain free to challenge the manner in which the law is implemented, so we will be monitoring the situation on the ground closely," Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Right's Project, told the Texas Tribune.

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