What to know about SB 4, the Texas immigration law in the courts today

What to know about SB 4, the Texas immigration law in the courts today

Texas National Guard soldiers are seen guarding the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas.

John Moore/Getty Images

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John Moore/Getty Images

Texas National Guard soldiers are seen guarding the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas.

John Moore/Getty Images

A whirlwind of court orders on Tuesday briefly allowed, then blocked again, a controversial new immigration law in Texas that would allow state and local law enforcement to arrest and deport people who are in the state illegally.

The Biden administration has objected to the law, known as Senate Bill 4, saying that the Constitution and legal precedent establish that the federal government has the exclusive power to enforce immigration law.

Texas' illegal entry law will test states' powers on immigration, border enforcement

While a federal court considers the merits of the law, a legal back-and-forth over whether the bill should take effect in the meantime created chaos Tuesday.

For several hours, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to be enforced. But then, close to midnight, a lower court put the law back on hold and scheduled a last-minute hearing on Wednesday morning.

At the hearing, a three-judge panel questioned the Texas solicitor general about details of the law and heard arguments from the U.S. Department of Justice and the ACLU about why it should be struck down.

The law remains on hold while the appeals court deliberates.

Here’s what to know:

What is SB 4?

Senate Bill 4 is a Texas law passed late last year that empowers state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. Texas Republicans who championed the legislation say it’s a response to the Biden administration’s border policies, which they have criticized as being too permissive.

Texas has spent over $148 million busing migrants to other parts of the country

The bill would allow state and local police officers to arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally, and it would allow judges to order the deportation of migrants to ports of entry along Texas’s border with Mexico, regardless of which country the migrant is from.

The bill was originally set to go into effect on March 5, but it had been blocked by courts until Tuesday and is now blocked again.

What is the legal challenge to the bill?

The Biden administration and private immigration groups have sued over the legislation, arguing that Texas overstepped its constitutional limits and that immigration policy and law enforcement are exclusive functions of the federal government.

On Feb. 29, the district judge hearing the case issued a preliminary injunction to block the law from enforcement while the case was being heard.

Texas appealed the injunction to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court then issued an administrative stay of the injunction — which would have allowed the law to go into effect as the case was heard — but put a 7-day hold on its own stay to allow the Supreme Court to intervene.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the law to go into effect. But it did not issue an opinion clarifying whether the majority had supported the merits of the law or if it simply viewed its decision as a procedural one.

Now, the question of whether to allow the district judge’s preliminary injunction to take effect — thereby blocking SB 4 from enforcement — is back at the Fifth Circuit on Wednesday.

Separately, Mexico’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the country will not accept migrants who have been deported under the Texas law. And it expressed concern for Mexican nationals living in Texas, who it said could now be subject to “expressions of hate, discrimination and racial profiling.” With the case back at the Fifth Circuit, Mexico will file a legal brief in opposition to SB 4 that lays out how the law could affect the relationship between the two countries, the statement said.

What do opponents of the law say?

Groups that advocate for civil rights and immigrants’ rights have criticized the law over concerns that it could lead to racial profiling. SB 4 would allow law enforcement officers to question someone’s immigration status for any reason.

“We know that this law is going to increase racial profiling. We know that this law is going to strip people of their constitutional rights. We know that this law is also going to lead to the mass criminalization of our communities,” said Alan Lizarraga, a spokesperson for the Border Network for Human Rights, speaking to the Texas Newsroom.

Opponents also worry that migrants with legitimate claims to asylum could have their federal cases asylum complicated by the Texas law if they come to face state criminal charges.

What do law enforcement officers in Texas say about the law?

Local law enforcement officers say they are prepared to enforce the law. But others have said they have not received clear guidance about how to implement it, or whether they’ll have resources needed to carry out arrests in large numbers.

“I think we’re going to be very selective about the cases we pick up,” said Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carillo, whose jurisdiction is located along the west Texas border. “Our jail is at capacity as we speak today, and to start incarcerating undocumented people and charging them a misdemeanor crime is a discussion I’ll have to have with my county attorney,” he told the Texas Newsroom on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Julian Aguilar of the Texas Newsroom.

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