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US Supreme Court delays Texas immigration law | News

The law, known as Senate Bill 4, had been set to take effect on Saturday and it would allow state officers to arrest people suspected of entering the country irregularly.

A United States Supreme Court judge has temporarily blocked a bill that would hand authorities in Texas draconian powers to arrest and expel migrants and refugees who enter the country without documents.

An order issued on Monday by Justice Samuel Alito puts the legislation on hold until at least next week, when the court is set to examine it again.

Opponents have called the measures, which would give state officials broad powers to arrest, prosecute and order the removal of people who cross the border from Mexico irregularly, the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since an Arizona law more than a decade ago.

Known as Senate Bill 4, the law had been set to take effect on Saturday under a decision by the conservative-leaning 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Alito’s order pushes that back to March 13. The delay came just hours after the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

“Make no mistake: S.B. 4 bypasses federal immigration authority and threatens the integrity of our nation’s constitution and laws,” a coalition of groups that took legal action against the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the law in December as part of a series of escalating measures on the border that have tested the boundaries of how far a state can go to keep migrants from entering the country.

The legislation would allow state officers to arrest people suspected of entering the country illegally. People who are arrested could then agree to a Texas judge’s order to leave the country or face a misdemeanour charge.

Those who fail to leave after being ordered to do so could be rearrested and charged with a more serious felony.

A migrant family crosses the Rio Grande River directly behind a Republican legislator's press conference criticizing the Biden administration's immigration policies during a visit to Eagle Pas
A migrant family crosses the Rio Grande River amid criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration policies [File: Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters]

‘Ongoing crisis at the southern border’

The Justice Department told the Supreme Court that the law would profoundly alter “the status quo that has existed between the United States and the States in the context of immigration for almost 150 years.”

It went on to argue that the law would have “significant and immediate adverse effects” on the country’s relationship with Mexico and “create chaos” in enforcing federal immigration laws in Texas.

The federal government cited a 2012 Supreme Court ruling on an Arizona law that would have allowed police to arrest people for federal immigration violations, often referred to by opponents as the “show me your papers” bill.

The divided high court found that the impasse in Washington over immigration reform did not justify state intrusion.

The Supreme Court gave Texas until March 11 to respond.

In a statement, the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the bill mirrors federal law and “was adopted to address the ongoing crisis at the southern border, which hurts Texans more than anyone else”.

The federal government’s emergency request to the Supreme Court came after a federal appeals court over the weekend stayed US District Judge David Ezra’s sweeping rejection of the law.

In a 114-page ruling on Thursday, Ezra rebuked Texas’s immigration enforcement and brushed off claims by Republicans about an ongoing “invasion” along the southern border due to record-high illegal crossings.

Ezra added that the law violates the US Constitution’s supremacy clause, conflicts with federal immigration law and could get in the way of US foreign relations and treaty obligations.

The battle over the Texas immigration law is one of multiple legal disputes between Texas officials and the Biden administration over how far the state can go to patrol the Texas-Mexico border and prevent illegal border crossings.

Several Republican governors have backed Abbott’s efforts, saying the federal government is not doing enough to enforce existing immigration laws.

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