Insight

Texas’ New Immigration Enforcement Bill Hits Federal Appeals Court

Enacted in 2023, SB-4 is reshaping immigration in Texas, establishing new legal provisions that could only look to increase tension between the U.S. and Mexico

Border patrol officer oversees scene
GS

Gregory Sirico

June 14, 2024 12:00 AM

On Wednesday, April 10, 2024, the lead attorney representing the state of Texas in the current immigration appeals court battle submitted a long-expected response to the court, expressing that the state may have overstepped its bounds when drafting Texas’ widely debated immigration-enforcement law SB-4. The Wednesday morning hearing, which was held before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, was just the latest example of how high legal tensions are between the state and the current administration over the measure. Despite this glaring concession on the state’s behalf, Texas’ Solicitor General Aaron Nielsen was quick to note that the state is still well within its right to enact SB-4, which aims to secure the border as well as the rest of the state.

Enacted in late 2023, SB-4 permits both local and state law enforcement officers to detain or arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally. Under the law, a first offense is considered a misdemeanor and repeat offenders will likely incur felony charges. Additionally, the law also permits any local judge, regardless of their prior legal knowledge or training on immigration matters, to order a migrant to return to Mexico, no matter their nationality. On several occasions, the Mexican government has gone on record opposing the law and has said it will not accept deported foreign nationals.

Widespread debate aside, that very same panel of judges who stated the law was excessive also decided last month, in a 2-to-1 decision, to keep the law on hold as the legal battle continues to boil over. Nielsen also said that decision was based partly on “inaccurate factual premises” about how the law is meant to work.

“What Texas has done here, is they have looked at the Supreme Court's precedent, and they have tried to develop a statute that goes up to the line of Supreme Court precedent but allows Texas to protect the border. Now, to be fair, maybe Texas went too far. And that's the question this court's going to have to decide. Texas takes them to the port of entry. And the United States then decides what to do,” stated Nielsen, as originally reported by KERA National Public Radio. Additionally, Nielsen also said that the state will not continue to detain or arrest a migrant if they aren’t allowed to enter Mexico.

Andrew Oldham, one of the presiding judges over the case who previously served as Governor Abbott’s general counsel, casted the deciding vote in last month’s order that blocked the law. In Wednesday’s hearing, he reportedly asked attorneys representing the administration about their reliance on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that Oldham stated did not adhere to the federal government’s request: to block a law before it has gone into full effect. In that case out of Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled immigration enforcement was largely under the scope of the federal government.

Recently, the Mexican government issued a statement, expressing that the law could only look to sour the current relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. As it stands, the appeals court has yet to issue a ruling and it’s unclear at this time when it will issue its opinion.

Headline Image: Adobe Stock/maxsafniuk

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