US appeals court blocks Texas immigration law
US appeals court blocks Texas immigration law

A new Texas law that gives state officials the power to detain and deport migrants will remain on hold, after a split appeals court ruling late Tuesday that said the laws “significantly impair the exercise of discretion by federal immigration officials.”

The 2-1 decision, announced by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, follows conflicting rulings on the new state law, which the Supreme Court briefly allowed to take effect last week.

The justices urged the 5th Circuit to take further action on the law, and a three-judge panel of the appeals court temporarily stayed it and held a hearing on the matter.

It was this panel that issued the decision late on Tuesday.

The decision means the state law, known as Senate Bill 4, will remain on hold as lawsuits seeking to overturn it make their way through the courts.

The same three-judge panel, based in New Orleans, scheduled an April 3 hearing to review a lower court ruling last month that found the law likely unconstitutional and blocked it from taking effect. In that ruling, U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra, a Republican appointee in Austin, said the law intruded more into federal immigration powers than Arizona’s immigration law, which the Supreme Court partially struck down in 2012.

Texas Republicans, led by Gov. Greg Abbott, passed SB 4 last year after accusing President Biden of lax border enforcement. US authorities have detained an average of 2 million migrants a year who have crossed the US-Mexico border illegal since Biden took office, the highest the Border Patrol has ever recorded.

Democrats countered that Republicans are refusing to pass a bipartisan Senate bill that would deal with the influx by expanding law enforcement. The Biden administration accused Republicans of delaying the response former President Donald Trump, the immigration hardliner who rejected the bill and is the likely Republican nominee to challenge Biden in the November presidential election.

Texas law makes it a crime for a noncitizen to enter the state illegally from another state. Migrants convicted of breaking the law can face up to six months in prison, while those who return after being deported face felony charges and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

The law also allows state judges to order deportation to Mexico. But President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said his government would reject any attempt by Texas authorities to send migrants to Mexico.

The Texas law was challenged in court by the Biden administration in January and last year by two Texas nonprofits and El Paso County government.

At least one other lawsuit has been filed against the state law on behalf of a Texas community organization, La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), and four unidentified immigrants who claim they are eligible to remain in the United States legally but could be targeted for deportation under Texas law.

In its decision late Tuesday to continue to block the law, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals noted: “For nearly 150 years, the Supreme Court has held that the power to control immigration—the entry, admission, and removal of noncitizens—is exclusively federal. power. Despite this basic axiom, [Senate Bill 4] creates separate, distinct state offenses and related procedures with respect to the unauthorized entry of noncitizens into Texas from abroad and their removal. The 50-page decision added that “Texas’ entry and exit laws also significantly impede the exercise of discretion by federal immigration officials.”

The decision was written by Chief Justice Priscilla Richman, nominated by President George W. Bush, and joined by District Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez, who was nominated to the federal court by Biden.

In a 71-page dissent, Judge Andrew S. Oldham, a Trump nominee and former general counsel to Abbott, argued that the ruling “means the state is forever helpless: Texas can do nothing because Congress has apparently done everything, but the federal non-enforcement means everything to Congress is nothing.

This is a developing story. Will update. William Branigin and Ann E. Marimov contributed to this report.

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