Appeals court blocks Texas' new SB4 immigration law

  • By Bernd Debussmann & Max Matza & Mattia Bupalo
  • BBC News

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SB4 would give police officers in Texas broader powers to arrest immigrants

A federal appeals court has struck down Texas' controversial immigration law, one of the toughest laws enacted by the U.S. government in modern times.

The decision came hours after the Supreme Court allowed the measure, SB4, to go into effect pending an appeal.

The law would allow authorities in Texas to detain and prosecute unauthorized immigrants.

Mexico, which borders Texas, has said it will not accept any migrants deported by its authorities.

Immigrant arrivals at the southern U.S. border have soared to record highs during President Joe Biden's administration, a major concern among U.S. voters ahead of the November presidential election.

The SB4 law in Texas was set to go into effect on March 5, but the Biden administration has challenged it, saying it is unconstitutional.

The decision to freeze the law is the latest in a string of judicial rulings that will determine its fate.

If it goes back into effect, it would mark a significant change in how immigration enforcement is handled, as courts have previously ruled that only the federal government can enforce the nation's immigration laws — not individual US states.

Crossing the U.S. border illegally is already a federal crime, but violations are typically handled as civil cases by the immigration court system.

Under SB4, the penalties for illegally entering or re-entering Texas are up to 20 years in prison.

It's unclear if any immigrants were detained during the hours the law was in effect.

Mexico's foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday: “Mexico categorically rejects any measure that would allow state or local authorities to use immigration control to arrest and deport nationals or foreigners to Mexican territory.”

The ruling is the latest in a back-and-forth of court rulings on whether SB4 can proceed.

In January, the Biden administration sued the state of Texas, arguing that immigration issues are a federal matter.

In February, a district court ruled that SB4 was illegal and blocked it from going into effect due to concerns that each US state would have its own immigration laws.

Soon after, the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit — the federal appeals court responsible for the area — said the law, which is considering an appeal, could go into effect unless the Supreme Court intervened.

The Biden administration filed an emergency motion with the Supreme Court to uphold the district court freeze while the case is pending.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gave the courts time to decide how to proceed with the law.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Supreme Court allowed the measure to go into effect, while a lower federal appeals court weighed in on its legality.

In a brief order Tuesday night, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit voted to freeze the ruling while it hears an appeal.

A court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

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See: Border floats and immigrants filmed on the Rio Grande River

Historically, the federal government has created laws and regulations related to immigration, even though the U.S. Constitution has not expressly granted those powers.

It is the central government that negotiates treaties and agreements with other countries.

Republicans are often critical of Democratic President Biden's handling of the US-Mexico border, which polls show is a top concern for voters ahead of the November White House election.

A Gallup poll released in February found that nearly a third of Americans believe immigration is the biggest problem facing the country, ahead of government, the economy and inflation.

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