Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas law that allows police to arrest migrants

The Justice Department has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt a new Texas law that allows police to arrest migrants who enter the country illegally

Acacia Coronado,Lindsay Whitehurst
Monday 04 March 2024 21:51 GMT
Migrant Arrests Texas
Migrant Arrests Texas (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Justice Department on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block a new Texas law that allows police to arrest migrants who enter the country illegally, setting up another legal showdown over the federal government’s authority over immigration.

The emergency request came after a federal appeals court over the weekend stayed U.S. District Judge David Ezra's sweeping rejection of the law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who for months has unveiled a series of escalating measures on the border that have tested the boundaries of how far a state can go keep migrants from entering the country.

The law is set to take effect Saturday unless the Supreme Court intervenes. The Justice Department told the court that the law would profoundly alter “the status quo that has existed between the United States and the States in the context of immigration for almost 150 years.”

It went on to argue that the law would have “significant and immediate adverse effects” on the country’s relationship with Mexico and “create chaos” in enforcing federal immigration laws in Texas.

It is not clear how quickly the court might rule.

In a 114-page ruling Thursday, Ezra rebuked Texas’ immigration enforcement and brushed off claims by Republicans about an ongoing “invasion” along the southern border due to record-high illegal crossings.

Ezra added that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, conflicts with federal immigration law and could get in the way of U.S. foreign relations and treaty obligations.

According to Ezra's ruling, allowing Texas to supersede federal law due to an “invasion” would “amount to nullification of federal law and authority — a notion that is antithetical to the Constitution and has been unequivocally rejected by federal courts since the Civil War.”

Ezra also said that the Texas law was strikingly similar to a 2010 attempt by Arizona to police immigration, which was called by opponents the “show me your papers” bill. That law was partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court — a ruling that Ezra cited in his decision as giving the federal government power over immigration enforcement.

Under the Texas law, state officers can arrest people suspected of entering the country illegally. Once in custody, people arrested can agree to a Texas judge’s order to leave the country or face a misdemeanor charge for entering the U.S. illegally. Migrants who don’t leave after being ordered to do so could be arrested again and charged with a more serious felony.

Republicans who back the law have said it would not target immigrants already living in the U.S. because the two-year statute of limitations on the illegal entry charge would be enforced only along the state’s border with Mexico.

Texas has been arresting migrants for years under a different program that is based on criminal trespass arrests.

Though Ezra said some might sympathize with Texas officials' concerns about immigration enforcement by the federal government, he said that was not enough to excuse a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The battle over the Texas immigration law, known as Senate Bill 4, 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 Abbott's efforts, saying the federal government is not doing enough to enforce existing immigration laws.

Some of Abbott's attempts to impede illegal border crossings have included a floating barrier in the Rio Grande— which Ezra previously blocked and is part of an ongoing legal battle— and placing razor wire along the state's boundary with Mexico. State guard officers have also blocked U.S. Border Patrol agents from accessing a riverfront park in Eagle Pass that was previously used by federal agents to process migrants.

___ Whitehurst reported from Washington.

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