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Trump administration weighs in on sanctuary cities court battle

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the federal court case over Texas' Senate Bill 4, arguing that the state is within its rights to adopt the anti-"sanctuary cities" law.

President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Trump administration has officially entered the courtroom battle over Senate Bill 4, Texas' immigration-enforcement bill.

On Friday, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the federal court case. The state was sued over the measure last month, the day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the controversial bill into law. 

Known as the "sanctuary cities" bill, the legislation allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain or arrest. It also punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration "detainers" — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation.

Opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin and San Antonio, as well as Webb County’s El Cenizo and Maverick and El Paso counties, argue in court filings that the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including guarantees of equal protection and freedom of speech. The opponents also argue that the law violates the Constitution's supremacy clause, which states that federal law — including statutes dealing with immigration enforcement — is “wholly dedicated to the federal government and may not be usurped by the states.”

In its filing, the Justice Department argues the bill is constitutional and that Texas' new law is not pre-empted by federal immigration law. The administration claims that the 10th Amendment guarantees states the right to craft their own legislation to a certain degree and that SB 4 is valid.

“It’s reassuring to know that the Trump administration believes in upholding the Constitution and defending the rule of law, and I’m grateful for the DOJ’s assistance in helping my office defend the lawful Senate Bill 4,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a news release.

In its filing, the Justice Department also addressed some SB 4 opponents' claims that federal detainers aren't enforceable because they are merely requests and not actual court orders.

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement "only issues detainers when there is probable cause on the face of the detainer to arrest an individual on the basis that he is a removable alien, and the detainer is accompanied by an administrative warrant," the filing states. 

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has scheduled a Monday hearing to consider plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction to stop SB 4 from taking effect as the court case plays out. The bill's effective date is Sept. 1.

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