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Judge puts temporary halt to strict Texas immigration law

David Peinado/Anadolu via Getty Images

(AUSTIN, Texas) — A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Thursday to temporarily prevent one of the strictest immigration bills in the country from going into effect in Texas on March 5.

The law, known as SB 4, would authorize local and state law enforcement to arrest migrants they suspect crossed into the state illegally. It would also also give judges the power to order migrants to be transported to a port of entry and returned to Mexico regardless of their country of origin.

Texas immediately appealed the decision, attacking the Biden administration.

“We have appealed this incorrect decision,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “Texas has a clear right to defend itself from the drug smugglers, human traffickers, cartels, and legions of illegal aliens crossing into our State as a consequence of the Biden Administration’s deliberate policy choices.”

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott also dinged the Biden administration. President Joe Biden has argued that Congress needs to pass the bipartisan immigration deal, which includes changes to asylum protocols, funding to bolster immigration review and hire additional Border Patrol agents as well as new emergency powers for officials.

“We will not back down in our fight to protect our state — and our nation — from President Biden’s border crisis,” Abbott said in a statement. “The President of the United States has a constitutional duty to enforce federal laws protecting States, including laws already on the books that mandate the detention of illegal immigrants.”

He continued: “Texas has the right to defend itself because of President Biden’s ongoing failure to fulfill his duty to protect our state from the invasion at our southern border. Even from the bench, this District Judge acknowledged that this case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Both Biden and former President Donald Trump were scheduled to visit the southern border on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra wrote in the opinion: “In the final analysis, it is clear that the Plaintiffs, particularly the United States, will suffer grave irreparable harm were SB 4 to take effect, especially where Texas has other aspects of Operation Lone Star in full force. The balance of equities unequivocally weighs in favor of denying the stay pending appeal.”

The lawsuit was filed in December 2023 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project on behalf of El Paso County, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and American Gateways. The lawsuit was consolidated with one filed by the Department of Justice.

Ezra, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, called into question SB 4’s constitutionality, stating in the 114-page ruling that the Supremacy Clause and previous Supreme Court rulings “affirm that states may not exercise immigration enforcement power except as authorized by the federal government.”

He also said that the law would conflict with certain aspects of federal immigration law and that it would be detrimental to the United States’ foreign relations and treaty obligations.

“If allowed to proceed, SB 4 could open the door to each state passing its own version of immigration laws,” Ezra wrote. “The effect would moot the uniform regulation of immigration throughout the country and force the federal government to navigate a patchwork of inconsistent regulations. SB 4 threatens the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice.”

The ACLU of Texas wrote on social media, “This is a win for Texas values, human rights, and the Constitution. The State could try to appeal today’s decision — but we’re not backing down.”

“#SB4 would let police arrest people over suspicions about immigration status — putting communities of color at greater risk of racial profiling,” the group continued. “We aim to strike down this law for good.”

Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, told ABC News that Thursday’s ruling is significant, but that the court battle to stop the law from ever going into effect is still ongoing.

“So this is a huge victory for Texans and in particularly Texans of color. We are so glad to see this positive momentum. We know that the battle may be won for now, but the war continues and so we are ready for that,” she said. “We know the fight continues and we’re ready to continue to do our work to ensure the safety of all Texans.”

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