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In Win For Texas Communities, Federal Judge In Austin Temporarily Halts Extreme ‘Show Me Your Papers’ Law

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In a major win for legal advocates and Texas communities, a federal judge in Austin has temporarily halted S.B. 4, the “show me your papers” law that, if implemented, would empower every law enforcement officer to question the citizenship of any Texas resident and detain them. The law, which was set to go into effect on March 5, is now halted while court proceedings continue.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra “said in his order Thursday that the federal government ‘will suffer grave irreparable harm’ if the law took effect because it could inspire other states to pass their own immigration laws,” The Texas Tribune reported, “creating an inconsistent patchwork of rules about immigration, which has historically been upheld as being solely within the jurisdiction of the federal government.” David Leopold, America’s Voice legal advisor, had previously called S.B. 4 “an overt challenge to the federal government’s supremacy on immigration.”

Judge Ezra also appeared to reject Texas’ claim about a so-called invasion. In recent months, Texas has cited this debunked white nationalist legal theory to defend its unlawful actions, including the illegal installation of a floating saw blade barrier in the Rio Grande last year. “I haven’t seen, and the state of Texas can’t point me to any type of military invasion in Texas,” Judge Ezra said in his ruling. “I don’t see evidence that Texas is at war.”

Civil and immigrant rights organizations that led the litigation against S.B. 4 celebrated the ruling as a victory for all Texans. In January, NPR highlighted how Governor Greg Abbott’s anti-immigrant crackdown was already profiling and targeting U.S. citizens, even before S.B. 4 was set to go into effect.

“We celebrate today’s win, blocking this extreme law from going into effect before it has the opportunity to harm Texas communities,” said Aron Thorn, a senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Beyond Borders Program. “This is a major step in showing the State of Texas and Governor Abbott that they do not have the power to enforce unconstitutional, state-run immigration policies. While this is only the first step in abolishing the law, people across the state can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they will not be needlessly arrested or deported by Texas under S.B. 4.”

“With today’s decision, the court sent a clear message to Texas: SB 4 is unconstitutional and criminalizing Black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant communities will not be tolerated,” said Jennifer Babaie, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “This crucial decision allows us to continue to focus our efforts on building a safe, legal, humane immigration system not contingent on abuses like racial profiling and harassment.” 

“We must continue to be vigilant against Texas’ politics of fear and hatred,” Babaie continued. “But today, immigrants and Texans of color get to pursue living lives of hope, opportunity, and family. It’s a win worth celebrating.”

“This decision is a victory for all our communities as it stops a harmful, unconstitutional, and discriminatory state policy from taking effect and impacting the lives of millions of Texans,” said Edna Yang, co-executive director of American Gateways. “Local officials should not be federal immigration agents, and our state should not be creating its own laws that deny people their right to seek protection here in the U.S. While we are thankful for this court decision, we know that too many people fleeing persecution are being denied their legal rights to make their case and seek political asylum. The only way to fix our broken immigration system is through federal congressional action, not individual state action.”

The lawsuit was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Texas on behalf of El Paso County, American Gateways, and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, a release said. “It was subsequently consolidated with a lawsuit by the Department of Justice.”

“I’m proud that our community is leading the fight against @GregAbbott_TX and the GOP’s inhumane, anti-immigrant bill,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) tweeted. “SB4 isn’t just a cynical way to rile up his right-wing base; it’s also unconstitutional, and today’s injunction reaffirms that. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) wrote that S.B. 4 “has never been about the border. It’s a dangerous, extreme law that gives local authorities the power to harass and detain anyone who looks or sounds like an immigrant. I’m glad to see this preliminary injunction, and I hope SB 4 will never go into effect.”

But as advocates noted, the fight is not yet over. Texas is set on appealing the ruling to the notoriously conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. “Texas has solid legal grounds to defend against an invasion,” Abbott tweeted, once again invoking the dangerous white nationalist conspiracy theory dismissed by Judge Ezra. But like in the floating saw blade barrier litigation last year, what happened in the S.B. 4 case is a federal judge carefully applying the law to the facts – something Abbott and corrupt Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton aren’t used to.

Judge Ezra was right. Texas isn’t at war despite the xenophobic fantasies of Abbott and Paxton. They “could” work with the Biden administration on solutions. But they’d rather do photo ops and inflict pain on immigrants and any person of color in their state. Craven, callous and despicable. Fortunately, one judge has put a stop to it – for now.