Why Texas ban on 'sanctuary cities' divides local law enforcement

Texas's controversial new law raises important questions about whether enforcing a federal law should always trump enforcement of local laws

By Patrik Jonsson
Staff Writer

From his 844-square mile territory of Texas cordgrass marshes and mesquite prairies, Jackson County Sheriff Andy Louderback responded to a ban on "sanctuary cities" in his state with a virtual tip of the Stetson.

A number of Texas sheriffs and most major city police chiefs opposed the groundbreaking law signed on Sunday by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. They say it coerces local cops to do federal immigration enforcement and would have a “chilling” effect on the state’s massive immigrant community. Sanctuary cities bar police from cooperating with federal immigration agents without a warrant.

But Mr. Louderback and more than 200 other Texas sheriffs say the new law is fine by them.

The rural sheriff says the state law – which bars the sanctuary cities and is the first in the nation to threaten non-complying officials with jail time and fines – is part of rebuilding a national rule of law that, in his opinion, lagged in the Obama era.  . . .

It also marks a 180-degree turn for the fiercely independent Lone Star State, which during the Obama administration stood against Washington on principle on issues ranging from labor law to the environment and from voting rights to education.

“The idea that you would threaten law enforcement officers, mayors, and city council people with jail time for not complying with federal regulations, that’s extraordinary in Texas,” says Cal Jillson, an expert in Texas politics at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas.  . . . 

For people on both sides of the issue, Texas will represent a testing ground for policing in the Trump era.

On the one hand, “To tell a police officer that the law is being broken as a matter of course but then say, ‘We don’t want you to worry about that,’ it sort of grates on who they are and what they do,” says Professor Jillson of Obama administration regulations that called for the release of unauthorized immigrants who hadn't committed felonies.

On the other, police chiefs in Bexas, Travis, and El Paso Counties testified last week that the law would cause unauthorized immigrants to fear contact with police, potentially undermining criminal investigations that need witnesses.

Read the full story.