US Supreme Court extends pause on SB4, Texas’ immigration bill; new lawsuit challenges law

The US Supreme Court will keep Texas’ controversial immigration-enforcement law, Senate Bill 4, on hold until next week. The development came the same day a new lawsuit was filed in an attempt to halt the legislation.

In an order Tuesday morning, Justice Samuel Alito extended an administrative stay on the law until Monday at 4 pm Central. It was scheduled to expire Wednesday unless the Supreme Court weighed in.

The law allows local and state police officers to arrest a person they suspect of being in Texas without authorization and empowering local judges to order a migrant to return to Mexico, regardless of the person’s nationality.

The extension came less than 24 hours after the state of Texas filed its response to the high court after the Biden administration and a coalition of immigrant and civil rights groups asked that the law be paused as the case winds its way through the courts.

Senate Bill 4 passed late last year by the Texas Legislature and was initially scheduled to go into effect March 5. It was temporarily blocked on Feb. 29 by US District Judge David Ezra, who ruled the law is likely unconstitutional because the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration matters.

The state swiftly appealed Ezra’s ruling to the Fifth Court of Appeals, which has scheduled oral arguments in the case for early April. The issue before the US Supreme Court is whether to allow the law to go into effect pending the resolution of the case.

The challenging lawsuit SB 4 was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights project on behalf of El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, American Gateways, and El Paso County. It names Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and El Paso County District Attorney Bill Hicks as defendants.

A separate lawsuit was later filed by the US Department of Justice, and the two were consolidated.

The US Department of Justice told the high court that allowing the law to go into effect will upend a century and a half of immigration policy that has been the preview of the federal government.

“Absent this Court’s intervention, SB4 will go into effect … profoundly altering the status quo that has existed between the United States and the States in the context of immigration for almost 150 years,” wrote US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar. “This Court has long recognized that the regulation of entry and removal of noncitizens is inseparably intertwined with the conduct of foreign relations and thus vested ‘solely in the Federal Government.’ ”

The ACLU of Texas added in a separate filing that allowing SB4 to take effect would negatively impact El Paso County’s ability to prioritize its resources to keep residents safe.

“[The lower court] explained that SB 4 would harm plaintiff El Paso County’s law enforcement operations, and would have the ‘perverse’ effect of removing crime victims while hampering efforts to prosecute the perpetrators,” the filing states.

In its filing to the US Supreme Court Tuesday, the Texas attorney general’s office said Texas is within its right to pass and enforce SB4.

“Under federal law, States enjoy wide latitude to regulate alien misconduct and prosecute crimes involving illegal entry and removal. Indeed, the federal immigration code is replenished with state-federal cooperation,” state attorneys claimed in the response. They reiterated that Texas is being “invaded” despite Ezra’s earlier claim that the label doesn’t apply to the current situation.

“This sovereign power is confirmed by the State Invasion Clause, which recognizes that States may unilaterally respond when ‘actually invaded,’” the state argues. “Under any plausible reading of that constitutional provision, SB4 can be applied in at least some and likely many cases.”

New lawsuit filed Tuesday also seeks to stop Texas’ new law

As the current case plays out, a separate lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Austin that also seeks to halt SB4.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, and the National Immigration Law Center said Tuesday they have filed a lawsuit on behalf of four immigrants and current Texas residents who could be subject to arrest under the law. The border-based non-profit organization, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, is also a plaintiff.

The lawsuit alleges that the four plaintiffs and several additional members of LUPE have pathways or pending applications with the Biden administration that could grant them legal status and eventual citizenship.

“Even so, under Texas’ new law, these individuals are subject to state criminal charges and a state judge’s order that they return to the state from which they entered,” a press release announcing the new lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two immigrants who have pending applications under the Violence Against Women Act, one who received Temporary Protective Status and another who was granted a specialty visa called a T visa. The T visa is given to some victims of human trafficking who have cooperated with law enforcement.

“SB 4 further prevents federal officials from making decisions that are exclusively within their authority and deprives individuals of the rights and protections afforded by the federal immigration system,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit names Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw as defendants.

The district attorneys of Bastrop, Harris, McLennan and Hidalgo counties are also named as defendants as the four individual plaintiffs resident in those respective counties.