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U.S. Supreme Court allows SB 4, Texas' controversial immigration-enforcement law, to go into effect

Migrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, Oct. 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Eric Gay/AP
Migrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, Oct. 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Texas’ controversial immigration-enforcement law allowing local police to arrest undocumented immigrants can go into effect, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, makes unauthorized entry into Texas a state crime. It also allows local judges to order a migrant charged under the state law to return to Mexico – regardless of where the immigrant is from.

Its implementation was temporarily blocked by U.S. District Judge David Ezra last month after lawsuits by the Biden administration and immigrant rights groups alleged the legislation is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The case is on appeal, but the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday denied a request to keep the law blocked as that case plays out in the federal court system.

The lawsuit challenging 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.

The groups alleged that the law would lead to racial profiling of Texans across the state.

A separate lawsuit was later filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the two were consolidated. The lawsuits also alleged the law was unconstitutional because immigration enforcement is solely the responsibility of the federal government.

Senate Bill 4 was passed in late 2023 as part of a priority package of immigration and border security bills championed by Gov. Greg Abbott and others.

Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the law is necessary due to what they say are President Joe Biden's border policies that have led to a record number of asylum seekers entering the United States through Texas.

Paxton immediately cheered the decision on social media.

“HUGE WIN: Texas has defeated the Biden Administration’s and ACLU’s emergency motions at the Supreme Court. Our immigration law, SB 4, is now in effect. As always, it’s my honor to defend Texas and its sovereignty, and to lead us to victory in court,” he posted.

Legal and immigrant rights groups meanwhile blasted the decision and said they would keep fighting its legality.

“We disagree with the court’s decision and the implementation of this unconstitutional and extreme anti-immigrant law will likely be disastrous for both Texans and our legal system,” said Adriana Piñon, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. “S.B. 4 threatens our most basic civil and human rights as citizens and non-citizens alike and we recommend anyone threatened by this, including people who fear racial profiling, to remember their rights. We will continue our efforts to halt this hateful law.”

This is a developing story.

Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom