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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas Measure That Targets Sanctuary Cities


We're going to stay in Texas, where a federal judge has just temporarily blocked a Texas state law that punishes so-called sanctuary cities like Houston, Dallas and Austin. The law would have allowed police officers to ask people about their immigration status during routine interactions like at traffic stops. The move by this federal judge now prevents officials from asking anything like that while so many people are trying to get help after Hurricane Harvey. We are joined by NPR's Scott Horsley now to talk about this. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What's been the reaction thus far to this move?

HORSLEY: I was just looking to see if the president had tweeted. He has not so far this morning. But we've seen an angry reaction from Texas Governor Greg Abbott. He says this ruling will make Texas communities less safe, and he promised an immediate appeal. The federal judge who issued this order, Orlando Garcia, is a Bill Clinton appointee. And he was a Democratic state lawmaker in Texas back in the 1980s. The appeal will be heard by the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans, which is considered one of the more conservative appeals courts in the country.

MARTIN: And this is obviously part of a broader fight over sanctuary cities that's happening across the country, right?

HORSLEY: Yeah. This case involves a Texas law, and it was being challenged by, you know, big Democratic cities - Houston, Dallas. It pitted those cities against the Republican-controlled legislature in Texas. But this is very much part of a national debate over immigration. We have seen, for example, the city of Chicago suing the Justice Department over the Trump administration's attempt to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities.

And this is partly a legal battle about who gets to make the decision about policing policies. Is it a local decision? Is it a state decision or a national decision? It's also sort of a practical question. You know, the - Governor Abbott and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had argued - have argued that cracking down on immigrants in the country illegally is a way to make communities more safe. There are people on the other side who say this compromise is cooperation from immigrant communities that police need to fight crime.

MARTIN: This whole thing, though, tough immigration policies, this is central to the president's personal brand. But it does seem that everywhere he turns, he's getting pushback on this.

HORSLEY: This is part of the Trump brand from the very first day of his presidential campaign, when he stood there and talked about illegal border crossers as rapists and drug dealers. These are divisive and polarizing policies, but they're also very much a rallying cry for the president and his base supporters. And that's why, for example, you see the president pardoning the controversial former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

That's why you see the president continuing to fight very hard for funding for a border wall, even to the point of threatening a government shutdown. Never mind that he argued during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall. You may also see this in the administration decision that's still pending about what to do with the DACA program. That is the Obama era program that gave a reprieve from deportation to immigrants who were brought here illegally as children.

MARTIN: And we as we mentioned at the top, this is all playing out against this backdrop of Harvey and the storm, which has had certain residents worried.

HORSLEY: Yeah. This is a case of Texas's get-tough policy on immigration being swamped by the rising floodwaters. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo was actually at the convention center, surrounded by cots, when he got word of this decision yesterday. Acevedo had been a critic of this state law, and he high-fived another police officer.

We've seen the state of Texas offering reassurance that evacuation centers would not be checking immigration papers. And we've also seen advocates for immigrants saying Texas will never need its immigrant community more, both legal and illegal members of that community then as it begins to clean up and rebuild from this terrible tropical storm.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley. We'll also give a little shoutout to your dog. I think he made an appearance in this conversation.

HORSLEY: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Hey, Scott thanks so much this morning.

HORSLEY: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.