Appeals court freezes new Texas SB4 immigration law

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  • By Bernd Debusmann, Max Matza and Mattea Bubalo
  • BBC new

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SB4 Would Give Texas Police Officers Broad Powers to Arrest Immigrants

A federal appeals court has frozen Texas’ controversial immigration law, one of the strictest laws of its kind enacted by an American state in modern times.

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

The legislation would allow Texas officials to detain and process unauthorized immigrants.

Mexico, which borders Texas, has said it will refuse to accept immigrants deported by its authorities.

Migrant arrivals at the US southern border have risen to record levels during President Joe Biden’s administration, making it a top concern among US voters ahead of November’s presidential election.

The SB4 law in Texas was supposed to go into effect on March 5, but the Biden administration challenged it, calling it unconstitutional.

The decision to freeze the law is the latest in a series of court rulings that decide its fate.

If it were to go back into effect, it would mark a significant change in the way immigration enforcement is handled, as courts have previously ruled that only the federal government can enforce the country’s immigration laws, not the individual states of the United States.

Illegally crossing the U.S. border is already a federal crime, but violations are typically treated as civil cases by the immigration court system.

Under SB4, punishments for illegal entry or re-entry into Texas range up to 20 years in prison.

It is unclear if any migrants were detained during the few hours the law was briefly in effect.

The Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday: “Mexico categorically rejects any measure that allows state or local authorities to exercise immigration control, and arrest and return nationals or foreigners to Mexican territory.”

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

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

In February, a district court ruled that SB4 was illegal and blocked it from taking effect over fears it would lead to each U.S. state having its own immigration laws.

Shortly 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 could take effect while considering the appeal, unless the Supreme Court intervened.

The Biden administration then filed an emergency request to the Supreme Court to maintain the district court freeze while the litigation was ongoing.

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

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

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

A court session is scheduled for Wednesday.

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See: Border buoys and migrants filmed in the Rio Grande

The federal government has historically created immigration laws and regulations, although the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly grant it those powers.

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

Republicans often criticize Democratic President Biden’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, which opinion polls show is one of voters’ top concerns ahead of November’s White House election.

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

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