April 24th, 2024

Supreme Court temporarily blocks Texas law that allows police to arrest migrants

By Acacia Coronado And Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press on March 4, 2024.

FILE - Migrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, Oct. 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, allowed a Texas law to proceed that lets state police arrest migrants and local judges to order them to leave, paving the way to a U.S. Supreme Court battle. The law, which was initially set to take effect Tuesday, March 5, will be able to take effect Saturday, March 9. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday temporarily halted a new Texas law that allows police to arrest migrants who enter the country illegally and set up another legal showdown over the federal government’s authority over immigration.

Hours after the Justice Department asked the high court to intervene, the court blocked the Texas immigration law from going into effect until next week. The high court also requested a response from the state by Monday.

The emergency request came after a federal appeals court over the weekend stayed U.S. District Judge David Ezra’s sweeping rejection of the law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who for months has unveiled a series of escalating measures on the border that have tested the boundaries of how far a state can go keep migrants from entering the country.

The law was set to take effect Saturday unless the Supreme Court intervened. The Justice Department told the court that the law would profoundly alter “the status quo that has existed between the United States and the States in the context of immigration for almost 150 years.”

It went on to argue that the law would have “significant and immediate adverse effects” on the country’s relationship with Mexico and “create chaos” in enforcing federal immigration laws in Texas.

The federal governtment cited a 2012 Supreme Court ruling on an Arizona law that would have allowed police to arrest people for federal immigration violations, often referred to by opponents as the “show me your papers” bill. The divided high court found that the impasse in Washington over immigration reform did not justify state intrusion.

In a statement Monday, the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the Texas law mirrored federal law and “was adopted to address the ongoing crisis at the southern border, which hurts Texans more than anyone else.”

In a 114-page ruling Thursday, Ezra rebuked Texas’ immigration enforcement and brushed off claims by Republicans about an ongoing “invasion” along the southern border due to record-high illegal crossings.

Ezra added that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, conflicts with federal immigration law and could get in the way of U.S. foreign relations and treaty obligations.

According to Ezra’s ruling, allowing Texas to supersede federal law due to an “invasion” would “amount to nullification of federal law and authority – a notion that is antithetical to the Constitution and has been unequivocally rejected by federal courts since the Civil War.”

Under the Texas law, state officers can arrest people suspected of entering the country illegally. Once in custody, people arrested can agree to a Texas judge’s order to leave the country or face a misdemeanor charge for entering the U.S. illegally. Migrants who don’t leave after being ordered to do so could be arrested again and charged with a more serious felony.

Republicans who back the law have said it would not target immigrants already living in the U.S. because the two-year statute of limitations on the illegal entry charge would be enforced only along the state’s border with Mexico.

Texas has been arresting migrants for years under a different program that is based on criminal trespass arrests.

Though Ezra said some might sympathize with Texas officials’ concerns about immigration enforcement by the federal government, he said that was not enough to excuse a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The battle over the Texas immigration law, known as Senate Bill 4, is one of multiple legal disputes between Texas officials and the Biden Administration over how far the state can go to patrol the Texas-Mexico border and prevent illegal border crossings.

Several Republican governors have backed Abbott’s efforts, saying the federal government is not doing enough to enforce existing immigration laws.

Some of Abbott’s attempts to impede illegal border crossings have included a floating barrier in the Rio Grande – which Ezra previously blocked and is part of an ongoing legal battle – and placing razor wire along the state’s boundary with Mexico. State guard officers have also blocked U.S. Border Patrol agents from accessing a riverfront park in Eagle Pass that was previously used by federal agents to process migrants.

___ Whitehurst reported from Washington.

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