Sanctuary Cities in Texas

In brief: There are no sanctuary cities in Texas.

On May 7, 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), which outlawed sanctuary cities. SB 4 requires police in Texas to cooperate with federal immigration agencies and permits them to check the immigration status of detained persons. Furthermore, local authorities are now forbidden to adopt policies that prevent law enforcement officers from asking people about their immigration status.

Under Texas Senate Bill 4, sheriffs, police chiefs and others who refuse to honor ICE immigration detainers can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and potentially sentenced to time in prison. They could also face civil penalties of $1,000 for the first offense and up to $25,500 for subsequent infractions.

Senate Bill 4 is immediately challenged in court

The day after Governor Greg Abbott signed the measure into law, Maverick County and the border city of El Cenizo filed lawsuits against SB 4. They were soon joined by the cities of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, as well as El Paso County.

Some of the plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and some were represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.

MALDEF describes itself as the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Their commitment is to protect and defend the rights of all Latinos living in the United States … MALDEF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, meaning that their business model is to seek donations for efforts made in the name of the cause.

Evidently a ‘revolving door’ exists between MALDEF and political administrations run by the Democratic Party. In March 2009, John Trasviña went from being president and general counsel at MALDEF to a new position as Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. His temporary replacement, Henry Solano, had previously served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado. In July 2009, MALDEF announced that Thomas Saenz, formerly chief counsel to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, would become their new president and general counsel.

In September 2017 a panel of three U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled that only parts of Senate Bill 4 could go into effect while the case played out. In March 2018 a separate panel of three U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled that the entire piece of legislation could remain in effect for the meanwhile, save for a provision that would have punished local officials for “endorsing” policies prohibiting or limiting immigration law enforcement.

The lawsuit of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton against San Antonio

In December 2017, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus took custody of a dozen illegal aliens discovered in a tractor-trailer, then connected them with immigration attorneys from an activist group who provided them with legal advice and a translator. They were interviewed by detectives and then released. Police union officials were outraged by the chief’s decisions and called for disciplinary action against him.

In November 2018, having conducted an extensive investigation into the case, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the city of San Antonio, its police department, chief of police and city manager. This was the first lawsuit filed under powers granted by Senate Bill 4.

Attorney General Ken Paxton accused Police Chief William McManus of having refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities who were alerted by one of his officers, instead ordering the 12 suspected illegal aliens to be released from custody.

The Attorney General requested the Travis County district court to issue an injunction requiring Chief McManus and the city of San Antonio to prohibit the police department from thwarting federal immigration enforcement, and to assess civil penalties against the city, the police department and Police Chief McManus.

In July 2019, a district judge in Travis County dismissed part of the claims made by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The dismissal was justified by the fact that at the time of the incident several relevant provisions of Senate Bill 4 were barred from enforcement by a temporary injunction. That injunction has since been removed.

Still, San Antonio will have to contend with the accusation that it has a general policy against cooperation with federal immigration authorities — several million dollars in fees are at stake for the city.

MALDEF expands its lawsuit challenging Texas Senate Bill 4

Last week, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund announced that it had moved to expand legal claims in, and add new parties to, its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas challenging Texas Senate Bill 4.

The added complaint asserts that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is a defendant in the SB 4 lawsuit, violated the U.S. Constitution by suing San Antonio. They also allege that police officers in North Texas violated the U.S. Constitution in arresting on immigration charges a married couple who answered an ad for a free TV on Craigslist.

This is how Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation, explains their legal move:

Although Texas officials previously claimed that SB4 was narrow in scope, we now know that Ken Paxton intends to apply SB4 in an unconstitutional manner, including forcing local jurisdictions to make immigration arrests … Cities and counties cannot and should not be compelled to step into the shoes of federal immigration agents.


One thing that's clear is that immigrant advocacy groups wouldn't be satisfied until there was an unchecked flood of immigration across the U.S. southwest border, from the Mexican direction.

Disclaimer: Information on this website is not legal advice.