By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Trump administration filed court papers on Friday to support a Texas state law that would punish so-called "sanctuary cities" and is seeking to argue in court hearings next week in favor of the legislation it says will help keep America safe.
On Monday, a Texas border town and some of the state's biggest cities will ask a U.S. federal judge to halt the state law known as Senate Bill 4, arguing it is unconstitutional, violates human rights and illegally diverts police resources from fighting local crime to enforcing U.S. immigration law.
The Republican-backed law in Texas, the U.S. state with the longest border with Mexico, takes effect on Sept. 1. It calls for jail time for police chiefs and sheriffs who fail to cooperate in U.S. immigration enforcement.
It was the first such legislation approved by a state since Republican Donald Trump, who backs a crackdown on illegal immigration, became president in January.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a "statement of interest" with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, saying the law will facilitate cooperation between the state and federal authorities.
“President Trump has made a commitment to keep America safe and to ensure cooperation with federal immigration laws," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton welcomed the filing and said in a statement the Department of Justice plans to be involved in all court proceedings on SB 4.
Plaintiffs including border town El Cenizo, the city of San Antonio and others, have said SB 4 is an extraordinary intrusion into the way they govern.
"Under SB 4, local entities must enforce federal immigration law and must do so regardless of whether such enforcement will divert resources away from more pressing police needs," they said in court filings.
The law allows police to ask about immigration status during a lawful detention.
Supporters have said immigrants who do not break the law have nothing to fear. Critics contend it allows police to detain people for up to 48 hours for immigration checks, even for minor infractions such as jay-walking.
Police chiefs of the state's biggest cities have come out against SB 4.
The bill's Republican sponsor has said in legislative debate there are no local authorities in Texas at present that he considers a "sanctuary city," a place that shields immigrants in the country illegally.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by David Gregorio)