Federal Court Indefinitely Suspends SB4 Enforcement

U.S.-Mexico border | Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Tuesday night rejected Texas’ application for an administrative stay to be placed on a border security law that would make unlawful entry into the state a crime.

A panel from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the application by a vote of 2-1, meaning that the state cannot enforce the law during an ongoing lawsuit.

This decision is in regard to a joint lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges Texas Senate Bill 4 is unconstitutional because the management of immigration law is an exclusive right of the federal government.

Chief Judge Priscilla Richman and Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez voted to block the law indefinitely, as Richman wrote in her opinion that the law grants powers to Texas that are “likely reserved to the United States.”

“For nearly 150 years, the Supreme Court has held that the power to control immigration — the entry, admission, and removal of noncitizens — is exclusively a federal power. Despite this fundamental axiom, SB 4 creates separate, distinct state criminal offenses and related procedures regarding unauthorized entry of noncitizens into Texas from outside the country and their removal,” continued the judge.

Judge Andrew Oldham, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, dissented from the decision and wrote in an opinion that the “State is forever helpless.”

“Texas can do nothing because Congress apparently did everything, yet federal non-enforcement means Congress’s everything is nothing,” he wrote.

“And second, while the dispute before us is entirely hypothetical, the consequences of today’s decision will be very real.”

This lawsuit began shortly after Senate Bill 4, along with two other border security bills, was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in December.

Both the DOJ and ACLU filed lawsuits to block the potential law shortly after Abbott signed the bill, as the DOJ filing claims that the federal government brought forth the lawsuit in order to “preserve its exclusive authority under federal law to regulate the entry and removal of noncitizens.” 

“But Texas cannot run its own immigration system. Its efforts, through SB 4, intrude on the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate the entry and removal of noncitizens, frustrate the United States’ immigration operations and proceedings, and interfere with U.S. foreign relations.”

An earlier Fifth Circuit panel voted in favor of an administrative stay and allowed the state to enforce the law, a ruling that was later confirmed after the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to remove the stay.

However, this administrative stay was not in effect for long, as it was removed by another Fifth Circuit panel shortly after it went into effect.

When oral arguments from both sides were presented to the panel just one day later, judges appeared divided on whether the law intruded on the rights granted to the federal government.

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