Texans who suspect their elected or appointed officials of enforcing policies that protect undocumented immigrants can now file an official complaint with the office of the state’s top prosecutor.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday announced his office is accepting sworn complaints against “sanctuary” jurisdictions that prohibit local police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The announcement comes after Monday’s decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that parts of the state’s immigration enforcement legislation, Senate Bill 4, can go into effect while the case plays out on appeal.

As passed, the law calls for civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day on local jurisdictions that violate its provisions. Officials who enforce the prohibited policies are also eligible for removal from office.

The panel ruled that jail employees must honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold a person for possible deportation, provided the jail follows current ICE policies. But attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, including the cities of El Paso, El Cenizo, San Antonio and others, argued after the ruling that local jurisdictions can still consider detainers individually.

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“SB4 mandated compliance by local jurisdictions with every single detainer no matter what, and the penalty for not honoring every single detainer was up to a year in jail,” said Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The 5th Circuit has let this provision go into effect but given localities the discretion to evaluate detainers on a case-by-case basis.”

But Paxton said Tuesday the 5th Circuit’s mixed ruling was a victory for the state and rule of law.

“The 5th Circuit quickly confirmed what my office and I long maintained: Senate Bill 4 is a common sense measure that prevents governments in Texas from standing in the way of federal enforcement of immigration law,” Paxton said in a statement. “By enforcing the key provisions of SB 4, we will prevent dangerous criminals from being released back into our Texas communities.”

Paxton said complaints could also be lodged against officials who adopt policies that prevent officers from assisting, cooperating or exchanging information with federal immigration officials.

The court ruled that officers cannot be prohibited from assisting or cooperating with the federal officials but that the language in the bill that prohibits “materially limiting” cooperation was too vague. That decision also drew mixed reviews.

“Local jurisdictions cannot flatly prohibit their employees from immigration enforcement or questioning,” Perales said. “But local jurisdictions are still allowed to set priorities.”

The back and forth between the plaintiffs and the state of Texas is likely to continue for at least six more weeks. The appeals court’s decision to allow parts of the bill to go into effect could be valid only until a separate panel hears arguments on the overall case itself. That is scheduled for the first week of November. The future of the bill and its various provisions will be decided after that hearing.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A three-judge panel ruled that parts of the state’s immigration enforcement legislation can go into effect. The Travis County Sheriff's office confirmed it would now comply with all detainers, a stark change from its previous policy. [Full story]

  • The stage is set for a court battle in New Orleans between the state's attorneys and local governments over Texas' immigration enforcement law, Senate Bill 4. [Full story]

  • A decision on whether Texas' state-based immigration enforcement, Senate Bill 4, will be put on hold could come soon. But even if it's temporarily halted, the matter is far from over. [Full story]

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