AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge Wednesday threw out Texas’ efforts to have a “sanctuary cities” ban preemptively declared constitutional in a victory for the state’s largest cities, including Houston and Dallas, which want the immigration crackdown blocked before it takes effect in September.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin made no judgment on the legality of what opponents condemn as a “show me your papers” measure. He instead only narrowly ruled that Texas jumped the gun in rushing to court to defend a law that has yet to be implemented.
The fate of the law is now likely in the hands of a separate federal court in San Antonio where big city leaders, police chiefs and minority rights group have sued to stop the law from taking effect. That ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
The law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott lets police officers ask people during routine stops whether they’re in the U.S. legally. It also threatens police chiefs and sheriffs with jail time if their jails refuse to honor federal immigration detainers.
“The health, safety, and welfare of Texans is not negotiable. We’re disappointed with the court’s ruling and look forward to pressing our winning arguments in the San Antonio cases and beyond (if necessary) on this undoubtedly constitutional law,” GOP Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.
Paxton had asked for a pre-emptive ruling on the law mere hours after Abbott signed it in May. The Justice Department has thrown its support behind the Texas law as the Trump administration makes curbing “sanctuary cities” a priority under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The four largest cities in Texas — San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas — are part of the lawsuit that challenges the measure as vague and unconstitutional. Police chiefs in those cities say it would have a chilling effect on immigrant communities and prevent crime witnesses and victims from coming forward.