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Federal appeals court maintains hold on Texas’ SB4 immigration law amid legal review

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A panel of federal appeals court judges, in a late Tuesday decision, upheld the block on Texas’ ability to arrest and detain migrants under the state’s controversial immigration law, SB4, while the court evaluates its legality. The 2-1 ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Texas’ plea to lift the lower court’s order that deemed SB4 unconstitutional and in conflict with federal immigration statutes.

As the legal battle unfolds, Texas remains barred from implementing SB4, which seeks to criminalize unauthorized immigration at the state level. The 5th Circuit is scheduled to convene for a hearing on April 3 to deliberate on SB4’s legality and constitutionality.

The Lone Star State is vigorously defending SB4 against legal challenges brought forth by the Justice Department and two migrant advocacy groups. Enacted by the Texas legislature last year, SB4 proposes state-level penalties for entry or reentry into Texas from Mexico outside official ports of entry—actions already deemed illegal under federal law. Law enforcement officials at various levels would be empowered to detain, prosecute, and potentially deport migrants suspected of violating these newly proposed state statutes.

Prominent Texas officials, led by Governor Greg Abbott, have championed SB4 as a vital tool in combating illegal immigration. Criticizing what they perceive as insufficient action from the Biden administration, Abbott has spearheaded robust border operations, transporting tens of thousands of migrants to urban centers and reinforcing border areas with barriers, razor wire, and National Guard deployments.

Despite state support, SB4 faces staunch opposition from migrant advocates, the Biden administration, and the Mexican government, which has condemned the law as “anti-immigrant” and pledged to reject migrants expelled by Texas. In its legal challenge, the Biden administration contends that SB4 undermines diplomatic ties with Mexico, flouts U.S. asylum laws, and obstructs federal immigration enforcement—a domain traditionally overseen by the federal government.

Echoing these concerns, two judges on the 5th Circuit panel aligned with the Biden administration’s stance. Chief Judge Priscilla Richman, in the majority opinion, underscored the historical precedent of federal authority over immigration matters. She emphasized that SB4’s establishment of distinct state-level offenses and procedures regarding unauthorized entry conflicts with this fundamental federal prerogative.

The fate of SB4 hangs in the balance as legal deliberations continue, with significant implications for immigration policy and federal-state relations. As Texas awaits the outcome of the 5th Circuit’s scrutiny, the contentious debate over immigration enforcement and state sovereignty persists, shaping the landscape of national immigration discourse.

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