AUSTIN ― Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the Texas legislature’s controversial immigration crackdown law during a speech here Friday, commending conservative officials for supporting his efforts against “sanctuary” jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
“In Texas, you’ve taken a strong leadership role on this issue,” Sessions said, later adding: “We’ve got your back and you’ve got our thanks.”
In May, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4, a GOP-backed measure that forbids local jurisdictions from creating sanctuary policies. The law criminalizes the act of declining a request from federal immigration authorities to hold a suspected undocumented immigrant in a local jail so they can be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A federal judge temporarily blocked much of the law from going into effect in late August. But an order from a three-judge panel last month partly reversed that decision.
It’s unclear whether or not the courts will ultimately uphold SB 4. But by passing perhaps the most hardline immigration law in recent years, Republican-led Texas has become a natural ally for the Trump administration’s deportation efforts.
“It’s not just a local issue ― it’s a national one,” Sessions said, noting that the Justice Department had filed a statement of interest in the SB 4 case and would continue to defend the law’s constitutionality in court.
The only official in the state to craft a policy limiting local law enforcement cooperation with ICE detainers is Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, whose jurisdiction includes Austin. She abandoned the policy last month after the injunction was partly reversed in order to comply with SB 4.
Now, Travis County honors all ICE detainers and police may ask the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons.
Hernandez sat in the third row of the audience as Sessions gave his 20-minute speech on Friday.
Sessions made no mention of Travis County’s former detainer policy, but railed against sanctuary cities in general. Leaders of such jurisdictions support “radical open borders” policies, he said, but “feigned outrage” when he cut off federal funds to some of them earlier this year ― a decision that prompted federal lawsuits in Illinois and California.
Hundreds of jurisdictions decline at least some ICE detainer requests, along with the entire state of California. Federal judges have ruled in several cases in recent years that holding someone in a local jail only on the basis of an ICE detainer violates the Fourth Amendment.
“If these cities want to receive law enforcement grants, then they should stop impeding federal law enforcement,” Sessions said.
Sessions planned to meet with local law enforcement officials later in the day.