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U.S. Supreme Court puts temporary pause on controversial Texas border enforcement bill

 A Texas DPS vehicle sits at the border fence in El Paso on May 11, 2023
Julián Aguilar
The Texas Newsroom
A Texas DPS vehicle sits at the border fence in El Paso on May 11, 2023

The United States Supreme Court has put on hold a federal appeals court decision that would have allowed Texas’ controversial immigration-enforcement law, Senate Bill 4, to go into effect as early as this weekend.

The Supreme Court’s decision means the law is on hold until at least 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 13 Eastern time.

Monday’s late afternoon move by the U.S. Supreme Court came after a flurry of activity that started over the weekend. On Saturday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals set aside a lower court’s ruling that SB 4 should be put on hold while a lawsuit against the measure plays out in court.

Senate Bill 4 was passed late last year by the Texas Legislature and was initially scheduled to go into effect Tuesday, March 5. The law would allow local and state police to arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally and permit local judges to order a migrant to return to Mexico.

But the measure’s implementation was temporarily blocked Thursday Feb. 29 by U.S. District Judge David Ezra, who ruled the law is likely unconstitutional because the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration matters.

The state of Texas immediately appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which over the weekend set aside Ezra’s decision. The appeals court put its own ruling on hold for a week to allow the Biden administration to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday afternoon, the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to vacate the Fifth Circuit Court’s decision and keep the law on hold.

Shortly thereafter, the country’s high court said the law will instead be paused until March 13 while it decides whether to let it take effect as the case plays out.

In its filing Monday, the Biden administration repeated many of the arguments it made in federal court in Austin last month, specifically that the law conflicts with the federal government’s role in immigration enforcement, which has been policy for a century and a half.

“Absent this Court’s intervention, SB4 will go into effect … profoundly altering the status quo that has existed between the United States and the States in the context of immigration for almost 150 years,” wrote U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar.

She added that the appeals court acted in haste and did not consider the specifics Ezra laid out in his decision last week when he had the law temporarily blocked.

“And despite the 114- page district court opinion detailing multiple independent reasons why the law is invalid, that disruptive change would occur without any reasoned ruling by the court of appeals,” the filing states.

The lawsuit challenging SB 4 was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights project on behalf of El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, American Gateways, and El Paso County. It names Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and El Paso County District Attorney Bill Hicks as defendants.

A separate lawsuit was later filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the two were consolidated.

Attorneys for the ACLU of Texas and Las Americas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest proceedings. Gov. Greg Abbott said after the legislation was passed that Texas has a right to defend itself against what he’s called Biden open-border policies.

Abbott has anticipated that the legality of the legislation could eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Copyright 2024 KERA

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom