U.S. appeals court revives Texas immigrant-harboring law

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By Jonathan Stempel

<span class="articleLocation”>A federal appeals court on Thursday said Texas
may resume enforcement of a 2015 state law making it a felony to
harbor immigrants who entered the United States illegally.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal
judge’s preliminary injunction last April that had blocked
enforcement of the border security law known as House Bill 11 in
part because it intruded upon federal authority to regulate

Both sides portrayed Thursday’s decision as a victory.

A spokesman for Governor Greg Abbott said it would help
Texas curb human smuggling, while a lawyer for landlords and
social services providers opposed to the law said the decision
clarified that they cannot be prosecuted under its terms.

In issuing the injunction last April, U.S. District Judge
David Alan Ezra in San Antonio rejected arguments by Abbott and
other state officials that the law targeted only human
trafficking and smuggling, not immigration generally.

He also said enforcement could cause “irreparable harm” to
the four plaintiffs, which included two landlords, a Brownsville
homeless shelter, and the head of a group providing shelter and
legal services to immigrants in central and south Texas.

Writing for a three-judge appeals court panel, however,
Circuit Judge Jerry Smith said the plaintiffs lacked standing to
sue because they could not demonstrate a “credible threat” of

“There is no reasonable interpretation by which merely
renting housing or providing social services to an illegal alien
constitutes ‘harboring … that person from detection,'” Smith

Abbott’s press secretary John Wittman said in an email the
Republican governor “was proud to sign HB 11 into law to crack
down on human smuggling and increase penalties for perpetrators
of these horrific crimes. He applauds today’s decision.”

Ken Paxton, the state’s Republican attorney General, said
the decision would let Texas “fight the smuggling of humans and
illegal contraband by transnational gangs and perpetrators of
organized crime, not just on the border, but throughout Texas.”

The plaintiffs’ lawyer Nina Perales, vice president of the
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, had argued
that Texas legislators “intended to criminalize” her clients’
activity, but said the appeals court’s narrower definition of
harboring offered protection.

“Texas wanted maximum latitude to arrest and prosecute
people who had dealings with undocumented immigrants,” Perales
said in an interview. “The 5th Circuit reined that in by
declaring that ordinary landlords and humanitarian workers are
outside the scope of the statute.”

The case is Cruz et al v Abbott et al, 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, No. 16-50519

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