Yes to SB 4 injunction — but don’t celebrate yet


Protesters against Texas Senate SB-4 bill at a "Day of Action" event in downtown Fort Worth last month.
Protesters against Texas Senate SB-4 bill at a "Day of Action" event in downtown Fort Worth last month. rmallison@star-telegram.com

A federal judge has halted key provisions of SB 4 from being implemented just a day before it was set to go into effect, but before we get too excited (or angry, for that matter) remember: This isn’t unusual in cases where a controversial law is being challenged.

Four of Texas’ cities took the state to court over the “sanctuary cities law.” Fort Worth declined to join the suit — a decision we accept but with which we disagree.

We have worried about the constitutionality of the law since its passage and are most especially concerned about how cities choose to implement it.

In issuing his temporary injunction, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia didn’t rule on the merits of the law.

Nor did he put the whole law under lockdown — the injunction applies only to parts of it and only temporarily.

Judge Garcia took issue with a provision mandating that local jurisdictions comply with immigration detainer requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. He also found problematic the law’s prohibition of local government entities and officials adopting, enforcing or endorsing any policy limiting the enforcement of immigration laws. And he seemed bothered by the hefty penalties the state could levy for any violations of that policy.

But other controversial provisions, like officers being able to inquire into the citizenship status of anyone lawfully detained, were unfortunately left standing.

That is the part of the law that has many Texans worried and has mobilized groups like United Fort Worth.

The good news is that while Garcia’s decision let the provision stand, he also weakened it by limiting what officers can do with any information they receive regarding immigration status.

“In sum, SB 4 gives local officers discretion to inquire and share information, but it does not provide them with discretion to act upon the information that they may obtain,” Garcia wrote.

He’s right, but we maintain that this part of the law still leaves too much room for profiling and abuse.

Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have said they will appeal the decision.

“We’re confident SB 4 will ultimately be upheld as constitutional and lawful,” Paxton said in a statement.

We beg to differ. And while Judge Garcia hasn’t had the opportunity to examine the law in full, his decision this week indicates that some of the opposition to the law has merit.

So enjoy the small victory but don’t celebrate yet.