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Texas’ new immigration law is blocked again

(Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

Alejandro Serrano and Uriel J. Garcia, The Texas Tribune
March 19, 2024

A federal appeals court late Tuesday night stopped a state law allowing Texas police to arrest people suspected of illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border — hours after the U.S. Supreme Court had allowed it to go into effect.

Earlier in the day, the high court had allowed the law to go into effect after it sent the case back to the appeals court, urging it to issue a ruling promptly. The appeals court soon scheduled a hearing for Wednesday morning. And on the night before hearing oral arguments the appeals court issued an order to let a lower court’s earlier injunction stopping Senate Bill 4 stand, according to a filing.

The Supreme Court earlier Tuesday let SB 4 go into effect but stopped short of ruling on the law’s constitutionality, which has been challenged by the Biden administration.

Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas at Austin law professor, said the back-and-forth is “indefensibly chaotic.”

“Even if that means SB 4 remains paused indefinitely, hopefully everyone can agree that this kind of judicial whiplash is bad for everyone,” he said.

SB 4 seeks to make illegally crossing the border a Class B misdemeanor, carrying a punishment of up to six months in jail. Repeat offenders could face a second-degree felony with a punishment of two to 20 years in prison.

The law also requires state judges to order migrants returned to Mexico if they are convicted; local law enforcement would be responsible for transporting migrants to the border. A judge could drop the charges if a migrant agrees to return to Mexico voluntarily.

The high court’s move drew a swift denouncement from some Mexican officials, praise from Texas Republicans who counted it as a victory, albeit temporary, and concern from immigrant rights advocates. The reactions were dated by 10 p.m. Tuesday when the appellate court issued its order, marking the latest development in a whirlwind 24 hours since the Supreme Court had extended a temporary block of SB 4 only to reverse course Tuesday.

The Biden administration and immigrant rights organizations, have sued Texas, claiming SB 4 is unconstitutional because it interferes with federal immigration laws, a role federal courts have said falls under the federal government’s purview.

In February, U.S. District Judge David Ezra in Austin blocked SB 4, saying the law “threatens the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice.” Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office immediately appealed the ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed Ezra’s ruling.

The Biden administration then appealed to the Supreme Court, which temporarily blocked the law until March 18 as it considered the federal government’s request to stop the law from going into effect.

In December, ​​the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project sued Texas on behalf of El Paso County and two immigrant rights organizations — El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and Austin-based American Gateways — over the new state law.

The following month, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its lawsuit against Texas. The lawsuits have since been combined. Last week, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center also filed a lawsuit on behalf of La Union del Pueblo Entero, an advocacy group in the Rio Grande Valley founded by farmer rights activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta.

 The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

This article is republished from The Texas Tribune under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.