Texas’ migrant detention law will remain in place, according to a new court ruling
Texas’ migrant detention law will remain in place, according to a new court ruling

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Texas plans to arrest migrants suspected of enter the US illegally will remain on hold under a federal appeals court order that likely blocks Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s new immigration law pending a broader decision on whether it is legal.

The 2-1 decision late Tuesday is the second time a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily suspended the Texas law. It follows a confusing few hours last week when the Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect, giving it a head start anger and anticipation along the US-Mexico border.

Authorities in Texas announced that no arrests had been made under the law during that brief period on March 19 before an appeals panel stepped in and blocked it.

In Tuesday’s order, Chief Justice Priscilla Richman cited a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of Arizona’s tough immigration law, including the right to arrest. The Texas law is seen by opponents as the most dramatic attempt by a state to control immigration since Arizona’s.

“For nearly 150 years, the Supreme Court has ruled that the power to control immigration — the entry, admission and removal of noncitizens — is an exclusively federal power,” wrote Richman, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush.

The Justice Department argued that the Texas law was a clear violation of federal authorities and would create chaos at the border. Texas has argued that President Joe Biden’s administration is not doing enough to control the border and that the state has the right to take action.

The Texas law, Richman wrote, “creates separate, distinct state crimes and related procedures with respect to the unauthorized entry of noncitizens into Texas from abroad and their removal.”

Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez, a Biden appointee, joined her opinion.

Justice Andrew Oldham, an appointee of former President Donald Trump and a former aide to Abbott, dissented from the majority decision.

Oldham wrote that the Biden administration faces a high bar to assume the sovereign power Texas needs to enforce a law its people and leaders want.

“In our federal system, the state of Texas must retain at least some of its sovereignty,” Oldham wrote. “His people are supposed to be able to use that sovereignty to elect representatives and send them to Austin to debate and pass laws that meet the needs that Texans feel and that Texans want addressed.”

The law was in effect for a few hours on March 19 after the US Supreme Court cleared the way. But the high court did not rule on the merits of the case. Instead, send the case back to 5th Circuit, which has suspended implementation while it considers the latest appeal.

The last solution keeps the block in place.

Phone messages seeking comment were left Wednesday with spokespeople for Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The law signed by Abbott allows any law enforcement officer in Texas to arrest people suspected of entering the country illegally. Once apprehended, migrants can either comply with a Texas judge’s order to leave the US or be prosecuted on charges of illegal entry. Migrants who do not leave can be rearrested on more serious criminal charges.

Authorities offered various explanations for how they might enforce the law. Mexico has said it will refuse to take back anyone ordered by Texas to cross the border.

The short period that the law was in effect revealed that many sheriffs were unprepared, unable or uninterested in its application.

Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland of Terrell County, which straddles more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the border, told The Associated Press last week that there there is no practical way for him to enforce the law. Cleveland said there is no way to transport people, the county jail only has room for seven people and the nearest port is more than a 2 1/2 hour drive away.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith, president of the Texas Sheriffs Association, said the law won’t have much of an effect in his East Texas jurisdiction, which is closer to Louisiana and Oklahoma than to Mexico, which is nearly 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Critics say the Texas law could lead to civil rights violations and racial profiling.

Supporters dismissed those concerns, saying arresting officers must have probable cause, which could include witnessing the illegal entry or seeing video. They also say they expect the law to be used mostly in border counties, although it will apply nationwide.


Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Oklahoma City and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.


This story has been corrected to reflect that Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland spoke to the AP and did not attend the gathering at the Capitol.

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