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The 5th Circuit Court Blocks Texas’s Controversial Immigration Law SB4

Martha Arias - Washington Post Interview

The Texas immigration law, known as Senate Bill 4 (SB4), was designed to criminalize unauthorized entry into Texas from anywhere other than a legal port of entry, distinguishing itself from the usual federal handling of immigration matters. Typically, immigration enforcement falls under federal jurisdiction, where crossing the U.S. border without authorization is treated as a federal crime, generally processed within the immigration court system as a civil case. However, SB4 introduced harsher penalties, including up to 20 years in prison for illegal re-entry into Texas, and empowered officers to detain individuals suspected of crossing the border illegally.

This law is an extension of Governor Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star,” a border security program initiated in March 2021. The program has expanded into a significant initiative, with Abbott deploying measures such as razor wire along the border, a floating fence in the Rio Grande, and increased funding for local law enforcement to target migrants and asylum seekers. Abbott has defended the law as necessary due to what he perceives as the Biden administration’s failure to enforce existing federal laws criminalizing illegal entry or re-entry.

The U.S. Supreme Court briefly allowed SB4 to go into effect, citing a 6-3 decision. This ruling was shortly followed by a block from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, halting the law’s enforcement. This legal back-and-forth underscores the contentious nature of state-level immigration laws and their potential to conflict with federal jurisdiction over immigration matters.

Reactions to the Supreme Court’s initial ruling were mixed, with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton considering it a “huge win” and Governor Abbott viewing it as a “positive development.” In contrast, the Biden administration criticized the measure as “harmful and unconstitutional,” and the American Civil Liberties Union labeled it as one of the most extreme anti-immigrant laws passed by any state legislature.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to block SB4 reflects ongoing legal debates over states’ roles in immigration enforcement and the balance of power between state and federal governments in managing immigration policies. These developments highlight the complexity of immigration law enforcement in the U.S., the differing views on how best to handle unauthorized border crossings, and the legal challenges that arise when state laws potentially conflict with federal statutes and constitutional provisions​​​​​​.

Martha L. Arias, Esq. - Immigration Law Attorney

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