Supreme Court lifts stay on Texas law that gives police broad powers to arrest migrants at border


A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted a stay on a Texas law that gives police broad powers to arrest migrants suspected of crossing the border illegally, while a legal battle over immigration authority plays out.

The Biden administration is suing to strike down the measure, arguing it’s a clear violation of federal authority that would hurt international relations and create chaos in administering immigration law. Texas has argued it has a right to take action over what authorities have called an ongoing crisis at the southern border.

Opponents say the law, known as Senate Bill 4, the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since an Arizona law more than a decade ago, portions of which were struck down by the Supreme Court. Critics have also said the Texas law could lead to civil rights violations and racial profiling.

A federal judge in Texas struck down the law in late February, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals quickly stayed that ruling, leading the federal government to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The majority did not write a detailed opinion in the case, as it typical in emergency appeals. But the decision to let the law go into effect drew dissents from liberal justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

Sotomayor wrote in a blistering dissent that allowing Texas to enforce the law “invites further chaos and crisis” and “upends the federal-state balance of power that has existed for over a century”

In a separate dissent, Kagan wrote that the type of order entered by the 5th Circuit “should not spell the difference between respecting and revoking long-settled immigration law.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, suggested in a concurring opinion that her vote in favor of Texas stemmed from the technicalities of the appeals process rather than agreement with the state on the substance of the law.

“So far as I know, this Court has never reviewed the decision of a court of appeals to enter — or not enter — an administrative stay. I would not get into the business. When entered, an administrative stay is supposed to be a short-lived prelude to the main event: a ruling on the motion for a stay pending appeal,” she wrote.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could potentially block the measure again, and either side can return to the Supreme Court once the 5th Circuit acts.

Texas Gov Greg Abbott said the ruling allows Texas to begin enforcing the law, calling the decision a “positive development” while noting that an appeals court is still weighing whether the law is constitutional. He has previously said Texas has a right to take action on the border crisis.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is “prepared to handle any influx in population” spokeswoman Amanda Hernandez said in a statement.

Other Texas officials sounded a cautious note.

“A lot of the local police chiefs here, we don’t believe it will survive a constitutional challenge. It doesn’t look like it’s going to, because a Texas peace officer is not trained. We have no training whatsoever to determine whether an individual is here in this country, legally,” said Sheriff Eddie Guerra of Hidalgo County.

Guerra is also the president of the Southwestern Border Sheriffs’ Coalition representing 31 border counties from Texas to California.

The battle over the Texas immigration law is one of multiple legal disputes between Texas officials and the Biden administration over how far the state can go to patrol the Texas-Mexico border and prevent illegal border crossings.

Several Republican governors have backed Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts, saying the federal government is not doing enough to enforce existing immigration laws.

The Supreme Court in 2012 struck down key parts of an Arizona law that would have allowed police to arrest people for federal immigration violations, often referred to by opponents as the “show me your papers” bill. The divided high court found then that the impasse in Washington over immigration reform did not justify state intrusion.


Associated Press writers Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.

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