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Are legal conflicts clouding Texas immigration law?

Several years ago, an El Paso County resident filed a lawsuit that accused sheriffs’ deputies of conducting immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The suit was settled in 2006. The county sheriff’s department was required have written policies that prohibit deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.

More than ten years later, that settlement may create a legal quandary with state laws clashing with a formal legal document.

State lawmakers in the Texas Legislature are considering new laws that would require all county sheriffs, including El Paso, to enforce federal immigration laws. Senate Bill 4 mandates that law enforcement hand over immigrants in custody to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after receiving a detainer notice.

If passed, SB4 will not require local law enforcement to ask for immigration status. However, language in the bill prohibits department heads or elected officials from preventing or stopping it.

The bill would also punish government entities with “sanctuary city” policies that prevent local law enforcement from asking people for their immigration status.

The legislation is requiring what El Paso County sheriff deputies are currently forbidden from doing. The county attorney’s office has already been notified of a pending lawsuit following any passage of and subsequent compliance with the bill.

El Paso County received some assurance from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that a settlement does not equal a court order and would not trump state law. In addition, the success of any lawsuit is unlikely. However, Jed Untereker, assistant El Paso county attorney, remains unconvinced.

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