US court keeps Texas border security law on hold in win for Biden


By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) -A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday kept on hold a Republican-backed Texas law that would let state authorities arrest and prosecute people suspected of illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border – a statute that President Joe Biden’s administration has argued intrudes on the authority of the federal government.

A panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 ruling denied a request by Texas to let the law take effect while the state’s appeal of a judge’s ruling blocking it plays out at the appellate court.

The law, formally called S.B. 4, has become a flashpoint in a broader battle between Texas and the Biden administration over border security and immigration. It would make it a state crime to illegally enter or re-enter Texas from a foreign country and would empower state judges to order that violators leave the United States, with prison sentences up to 20 years for those who refuse to comply.

The 5th Circuit panel’s action was the latest of three rapid-fire rulings on the status of the law. The Supreme Court last week had let it take effect, but the 5th Circuit panel hours later restored U.S. District Judge David Ezra’s February injunction blocking enforcement.

Ezra, based in Austin, cited a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving an Arizona law that held that states cannot adopt immigration enforcement measures that clash with federal law.

The 5th Circuit panel is scheduled to hear arguments on the merits of the state’s appeal on April 3.

The Biden administration’s lawsuit, filed in January, argued that the measure violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law by interfering with the U.S. government’s power to regulate immigration as well as running afoul of the 2012 Supreme Court decision.

The administration has said immigration is the exclusive province of the federal government and that the Texas law would upend enforcement of complex U.S. laws that establish procedures for deportation and allow migrants to apply for asylum and other legal status.

Immigration and security along the border with Mexico are hot topics for voters ahead of the Nov. 5 U.S. election in which the Democratic president is seeking a second term in office. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate challenging him, pursed restrictive immigration policies during his presidency.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a fierce Republican critic of Biden’s immigration policies, signed the law in December, saying it was a necessary step to address an increase in illegal entries. Texas officials have blamed Biden for an increase in illegal border crossings that they have said drains states resources and threatens public safety,

The Biden administration has said interference from Texas and other states only compounds the problem at the border.

It and other critics of the Texas law have said that migrants who cross the border already can be charged with illegal entry or re-entry under federal laws. Advocates for migrants have said the law could fuel racial profiling by state authorities of people already in Texas.

The challenge to the Texas law is one in a series of legal disputes between Republican state officials and the Biden administration over the state’s ability to police the border, including its placement of razor-wire fencing and the installation of a 1,000-foot-long (300 m) floating barrier in the Rio Grande river.

Iowa lawmakers on March 19 passed a law similar to the Texas measure that is awaiting the signature of the state’s Republican governor. Several other states are considering allowing arrests of people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Will Dunham and Alexia Garamfalvi)



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