Texas’ crackdown on illegal immigration is about to run smack into Harvey, with local officials saying they’ll refuse to comply with a new state law that goes into effect Friday requiring police to check immigration status for those they believe to be in the U.S. illegally.
Known as SB4, the law would be the furthest-reaching crackdown of any state. It punishes leaders of sanctuary cities, including police officials, and spurs officers to determine immigration status of those they encounter.
A number of cities had already sued to block the law, and are awaiting a ruling from a federal judge at any moment.
But Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said there’s no need to wait for a judge to decide, calling for the state to suspend the law. He said his city won’t be enforcing it during hurricane relief efforts.
“We will not ask for immigration status or papers from anyone at any shelter,” the city tweeted, repeating the promise in English and in Spanish to make sure residents didn’t fear seeking help.
Mr. Turner, a Democrat, went further, saying Monday that the law should be shelved.
“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is. I do not want you to risk losing your life or a family member because you’re concerned about SB4 or anything else,” the mayor said. “Put SB4 on the shelf right now.”
He also said he would personally represent any migrant the government tries to deport while seeking help.
Texas state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez also called for SB4 to be delayed, saying lives were at stake in storm relief efforts.
“Local law enforcement must not be held responsible for implementing SB4 while they are busy saying lives,” Mr. Rodriguez, policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said in a statement. “If postponing the law’s implementation saves just one life, it will have been worth it.”
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the calls for suspension, but neither he nor Attorney General Ken Paxton have told the court they want to postpone the law.
“The sanctuary city case status has not changed since the storm,” a spokeswoman for Mr. Paxton said, though she said her office’s efforts right now are focused on Harvey relief and preventing scams and price gouging.
SB 4 would permit police to check the immigration status of those they encounter and have reasonable suspicion to believe are in the country illegally — though it doesn’t require the checks.
It would also impose penalties on localities that enact sanctuary policies preventing status checks or limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Elected or appointed officials could be removed from office, while police chiefs and sheriffs could face criminal charges for defying the new law.
A number of cities have challenged the law, and the case has been pending for weeks before U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia, a Clinton appointee to the bench.
Analysts expect the judge to rule before the Friday deadline for the law to take effect.
A 2016 study by the Pew Hispanic Center said Texas had more than 1.6 million illegal immigrants living in the state in 2014 — about 15 percent of the country’s total.
Immigrant-rights groups complained last week after the U.S. Border Patrol said it would maintain checkpoints along interstates that were being used as evacuation routes out of the hurricane’s path.
Custom and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, said they were maintaining checkpoints as long as roads were open, saying they feared criminals would try to “exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”