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'Show Me Your Papers' Law Temporarily Blocked By Federal Judge


A federal judge has temporarily blocked a controversial Texas state law that was aimed at strengthening immigration enforcement, but it's sparked bitter protests. The law was supposed to go into effect on Friday. It would have punished so-called sanctuary cities and fined local officials who were uncooperative with federal agencies. Here's NPR's John Burnett.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: San Antonio Federal Judge Orlando Garcia wrote a 94-page ruling that halts the enforcement of what's called Senate Bill 4. He wrote that the law would, quote, "erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe and ultimately harm the state of Texas." SB4 had two prongs. First it levied heavy fines and even jail time on sheriffs and police chiefs who declined to help federal immigration agents apprehend undocumented immigrants in their jails. Second it told local law enforcement agencies they could not pass rules, such as Houston has, that forbids their officers from inquiring about a detainee's legal status. The judge did let elements of this second provision stand as constitutional.

Detractors had dubbed SB4 the show-me-your-papers law. One by one, most of the state's major cities - San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston and El Paso - all came out against it. They said the measures would have a chilling effect on undocumented immigrants willing to step forward to report crimes or testify in court. The Houston police chief said it had already started to happen in his city. The Department of Justice sided with Governor Greg Abbott and the Republican-dominated Texas legislature. They maintain the new rules will make the state safer from crimes committed by what they call criminal aliens, and only law-breakers have anything to fear.

Abbott said in his statement the judge's ruling makes Texas less safe by releasing gang members and dangerous criminals to prey on our communities. But the ruling issued late Wednesday is a setback to the aspirations of Texas to mirror the federal government's crackdown on unauthorized immigrants. Lee Gelernt is with the ACLU, which fought against SB4.

LEE GELERNT: This was the harshest anti-immigrant state provision I have seen in more than two decades. So we are extremely pleased for all those people who don't want to see their communities made less safe by having their police turned into immigration officers.

BURNETT: Governor Abbott, who signed the law in May, said the Supreme Court has upheld legislation similar to the Texas law. He said his attorney general will appeal, and he's confident SB4 will be upheld. John Burnett, NPR News, Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018 and again in 2019, he won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
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