Federal appeals court order puts Dispute Texas immigration law back on hold

Federal appeals court order puts Dispute Texas immigration law back on hold

A federal appeals court Tuesday night again issued a hold on SB 4 a Texas law that would authorize state and local police to arrest and even deport people suspected of being in the United States without legal authorization adding another twist in what has become a legal rollercoaster over a state-level immigration policy.

The 2-1 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came hours after the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for the controversial state law to take effect Tuesday, allowing Texas authorities to begin enforcing the measure, which was enthusiastically embraced by the state's Republican leadership and denounced by Democratic officials and immigrant rights activists.

The appeals court panel, which blocked the state from enforcing SB 4, has set a hearing Wednesday morning to further review whether SB 4 can be enforced. Chief Judge Priscilla Richman, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, and Irma Carrillo Ramirez, an appointee of President Joe Biden, were in the majority in issuing a pause on the law. Judge Andrew Stephen Oldham, a former President Donald Trump appointee, dissented. 

Passed by the Texas Legislature during a special session in November, SB 4 codifies a series of penalties for anyone suspected of crossing into the U.S. in Texas other than through an international port of entry. The penalties range from a Class B misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.

The law allows state police to arrest migrants suspected of entering the U.S. illegally and to force them to accept a magistrate judge's deportation order or face stiffer criminal penalties.

Signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in December, SB 4 had previously been scheduled to take effect March 5 but its implementation was delayed after the U.S. Justice Department and civil rights groups sued the state over constitutional challenges.

The Justice Department had called the law "flatly inconsistent" with the court's past decisions, which recognized that the power to admit and remove noncitizens lies solely with the federal government, the department told the Supreme Court.

But Texas officials said the state is the nation’s “first-line defense against transnational violence” and the law is needed to deal with the “deadly consequences of the federal government’s inability or unwillingness to protect the border.”

Contributing: Maureen Groppe and Lauren Villagran, USA TODAY; Hogan Gore, Austin American-Statesman