Appeals Court Extends Block On Texas Arrests Of Illegal Immigrants

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Authored by Chase Smith via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

(John Moore/Getty Images)

A divided appeals court has upheld a preliminary injunction against the State of Texas, continuing to stall the enforcement of Senate Bill 4 (S.B. 4), a state law targeting illegal immigration that allows the state to arrest and deport suspected illegal immigrants.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision, in which one member of the three-judge panel dissented, follows conflicting rulings over the law that the Supreme Court briefly allowed to take effect last week.

The high court sent the case back to the 5th Circuit, which then halted enforcement while it considered the latest appeal.

The majority’s opinion said, in part, that “The United States has broad powers and rights granted by the Constitution and Congress regarding immigration matters.

They further argue that neither the state of Texas nor their dissenting colleague has offered enough explanation as to why the United States should be barred from suing the state over the law.

“What logical basis is there for courts to say private parties and government agencies or actors may bring an action sounding in equity but not the United States,” the majority questioned in their opinion. “Neither Texas nor the dissenting opinion offers a rationale that would support such a distinction.”

They added that the “Eleventh Amendment operates only to protect States from private lawsuits—not from lawsuits by the federal government.

The Heart of the Matter

Passed by the Texas Legislature in November 2023, S.B. 4 aimed to significantly tighten immigration enforcement within the state’s borders.

Among its most contentious provisions, the law criminalizes the illegal entry and reentry of noncitizens into Texas and authorizes state judges and magistrates to issue orders for the removal of individuals found in violation.

The challenge to S.B. 4 was mounted by the United States government, alongside two nonprofit organizations, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and American Gateways, and the County of El Paso.

These plaintiffs argued that the state law overstepped its bounds, infringing upon the federal government’s exclusive jurisdiction over immigration matters. The majority opinion agreed with that argument.

“We see no basis in the precedent of this court or the Supreme Court for concluding that the United States lacks a cognizable path for seeking to enjoin an allegedly preempted state law,” the judges wrote. “We bear in mind the United States has asserted that the laws at issue may disrupt or interfere with its core constitutional authority, including authority with regard to foreign policy and relations with other countries, as well as its authority over immigration.”

Judicial Findings

The appellate court’s ruling, delivered late on March 26, affirms the district court’s preliminary injunction and offers a comprehensive rebuttal to Texas’s defense of S.B. 4.

Key points highlighted in the decision include federal preemption, potential conflicts of interest, executive discretion, and foreign policy concerns.

The court identified what it said is a clear indication that Congress has fully occupied the field of immigration, particularly regarding the entry, reentry, and removal of noncitizens. This federal dominance, the court reasoned, leaves no room for states to enact independent immigration laws like S.B. 4.

The ruling also pointed to possible conflicts between S.B. 4 and existing federal immigration laws. The court expressed concern that the state law could undermine the federal government’s comprehensive and unified approach to immigration enforcement and foreign relations.

Another significant concern was that S.B. 4 might usurp the discretionary powers vested in federal immigration officials. By mandating the arrest, prosecution, and removal of noncitizens, the state law could interfere with the federal executive branch’s prerogative to prioritize immigration enforcement strategies.

Reflecting on precedent, the Fifth Circuit warned that S.B. 4 could adversely affect the United States’ diplomatic relations. Immigration policy, the court underscored, is an area requiring national unity and sensitivity to international implications, which state-level actions could jeopardize.

Dissent

Judge Andrew S. Oldham in his dissent wrote that he would grant the stay, noting the plaintiffs in this case “won a facial, pre-enforcement injunction against Texas’s Senate Bill 4.”

That injunction prevents enforcement of any part of S.B. 4 against anyone at any time and under any circumstances forever,” Judge Oldham wrote. “To defend that global injunction, and to take from Texas its sovereign prerogative to enact a law that its people and its leaders want, plaintiffs must show that S.B. 4 is unconstitutional in every one of its potential applications. Plaintiffs likely cannot make that showing.”

He added that the problems at the border stem, at least in part, from the federal government’s decision “not to enforce the immigration laws Congress wrote.”

I would embrace those same points here; allow Texas’s law to go into effect; wait for an actual conflict to arise between state and federal law; and then consider an as-applied preemption challenge at the appropriate time. Because the majority holds otherwise, I respectfully dissent.”

Broader Implications

Opponents of the Texas law say it is the most aggressive attempt by a state to address immigration since an Arizona law more than a decade ago, which was partially struck down by the Supreme Court, according to the Associated Press.

Supporters of S.B. 4 argue that the law is a necessary step to safeguard Texan communities amid perceived federal inaction on illegal immigration and that officers must have probable cause.

 

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