Alito extends order prohibiting Texas from detaining immigrants under SB4 immigration law for now

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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Monday extended an order prohibiting Texas officials from detaining and jailing immigrants suspected of crossing the U.S. southern border without authorization under a new law. state immigration law known as SB4 which the Biden administration has described as unconstitutional.

Minutes after a self-imposed deadline passed, Alito issued an order continuing to pause enforcement of the controversial Texas law, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature immigration policies, on an administrative basis.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is considering the legality of the measure, and the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to stay the law while the court challenge plays out. The full court has not yet acted on that request.

Passed by the Texas legislature last year, SB4 criminalizes unauthorized migration at the state level, making the act of entering the United States outside of a port of entry (already a federal crime) a state crime. It also creates a statewide felony charge of illegal reentry.

At the request of the Biden administration, a federal judge last month SB4 blocked, finding that the state measure is at odds with federal immigration laws. That ruling was later stayed by the Fifth Circuit until Alito stayed the appeals court order for administrative reasons. Alito’s administrative suspension maintains the status quo while the court considers the Justice Department’s request for emergency relief.

SB4 empowers Texas law enforcement officials, at the state and local levels, to detain, detain, and prosecute migrants on charges of illegal entry and reentry. It also allows Texas judges to order migrants to return to Mexico as an alternative to continuing processing, effectively creating a de facto state deportation system.

The Justice Department has said SB4 conflicts with federal law and the Constitution, noting that immigration law enforcement, including arrests and deportations, has long been a federal responsibility. He has also argued that the measure damages relations with the Mexican government, which has denounced SB4 as “anti-immigrant” and has promised to reject immigrants returned by the state of Texas.

Abbott, who has positioned himself as the state’s leading critic of President Biden’s border policies, has presented SB4 as a necessary measure to deter migrants from crossing the Rio Grande, arguing that the federal government has not done enough to deter illegal immigration.

Over the past three years, Texas has mounted the most aggressive state effort yet to challenge the federal government’s power over immigration policy, busing tens of thousands of immigrants to major Democratic-led cities, setting up wire of spikes and buoys along stretches of the border to deter migrant crossings and file multiple lawsuits against federal immigration programs.

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