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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Signs Controversial 'Sanctuary Cities' Law

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed into law a bill that bans so-called sanctuary cities. Senate Bill 4 for allows police to ask about immigration status when someone is arrested or detained. It also punishes law enforcement leaders who don't fully comply with federal immigration law. Police chiefs and immigrants' rights groups oppose the law. Audrey McGlinchy with member station KUT in Austin has more.

AUDREY MCGLINCHY, BYLINE: In a surprise ceremony streamed live on Facebook, Governor Abbott sat at his desk.

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GREG ABBOTT: Legal immigration is different from harboring people who have committed dangerous crimes. Those policies are sanctuary city policies and won't be tolerated in Texas.

MCGLINCHY: Abbott said this new law targets people like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez. Her department, which covers Austin, often refuses requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people believed to be in the country illegally. Under the law Abbott signed, police who don't cooperate fully with ICE can be removed from their jobs and charged with a crime.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey. Hey. Ho (ph). Ho. House Bill 4 has got to go. Hey. Hey.

MCGLINCHY: Roughly two dozen members of immigrants' rights groups gathered outside the gates of the governor's mansion Monday. They held signs reading no racial profiling, no discrimination. Ken Zarifis, who heads a local public teacher's union, ditched the bull horn that others needed to use.

KEN ZARIFIS: Make no mistake, the most vulnerable will be asked show me your papers.

MCGLINCHY: A person worried about the impact of the law is Vanessa Rodriguez. Her parents brought her into the country illegally, and she's a recipient of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

VANESSA RODRIGUEZ: I, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, am I a criminal? I don't think so.

MCGLINCHY: This law's been compared to a law in Arizona that was ultimately struck down by the courts, but that law required police to ask about immigration status, while this law gives them discretion to ask.

Witnesses and crime victims are exempt from being asked about immigration status. Still, law enforcement groups say it'll make communities less safe. Here's Austin Police Chief Brian Manley speaking last month.

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BRIAN MANLEY: We will have folks that may be concerned to come forward and report their victimization or report being a witness to a crime because we're going to start to blur that line of whether or not we are working with ICE on the civil side of enforcing immigration law.

MCGLINCHY: Legal maneuvering over the bill has already started. The state of Texas has filed a federal lawsuit in order to get SB4 declared constitutional. Meanwhile, immigrants' rights groups say they expect the law to be challenged before it goes into effect on September 1. For NPR News, I'm Audrey McGlinchy in Austin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZINOBA SONG, "LIFE'S WHAT YOU MAKE IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.