SB4: Supreme Court again blocks Texas law allowing police to arrest immigrants

  • By Bernd Debussmann Jr
  • BBC News, Washington

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Polls show Americans are increasingly concerned about immigration and dealing with the US-Mexico border.

The US Supreme Court has again struck down a Texas immigration law that President Joe Biden's administration said was unconstitutional.

SB4 would allow local and state police to arrest people crossing the border illegally from Mexico.

This would be one of the most difficult immigration procedures in any US state.

At least 6.3 million immigrants have entered the US illegally since Mr Biden took office in 2021.

In Monday's ruling, the Supreme Court imposed an executive stay, meaning SB4 cannot be enforced while urgent appeals from the Biden administration and other challengers play out.

Justice Samuel Alito's brief order suggested the court could take additional steps. This is the third time a conservative justice has suspended SB4.

SB4 would empower local and state police officers to stop and arrest anyone suspected of crossing the border illegally, except at schools, health facilities and places of worship.

Penalties range from misdemeanors to felonies and possible prison terms or fines of up to $2,000 (£1,570).

Penalties for illegal re-entry to Texas can range up to 20 years in prison, depending on a person's immigration and criminal history.

SB4 was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in December. It was initially slated to come into effect on March 5, but has been repeatedly stalled amid ongoing litigation.

Governor Abbott — a Republican closely associated with former President Donald Trump — has repeatedly argued that SB4 is necessary to reduce immigration and that the Biden administration is not doing enough to secure the border.

The law was challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union and the US Department of Justice, which argued that SB4 conflicts with federal authority to maintain security along the US border.

In late February, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the law, saying it threatened “the fundamental idea that America should control immigration with one voice.”

But the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that ruling, leading the Biden administration to file its emergency request with the nation's Supreme Court.

In an interview with Fox News on Monday, before the court ruling, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the law was necessary because Texas was “under attack” by immigrants.

“Land, sea, air. Millions of people are crossing the border,” he said. He also referred to the migrants as a “hostile group” and “an organized militia, in essence”.

Monday's ruling was welcomed by the Texas House Mexican American Legislative Council.

It said “Texan families of millionaires can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Polls show that immigration and the US-Mexico border are growing concerns for US voters ahead of the November 2024 election.

A Gallup poll released in late February found that nearly 30% of Americans believe immigration is the most important problem facing the country, significantly more than government, the economy and inflation.

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