SB4: Supreme Court blocks Texas immigration law

  • By Bernd Debusmann Jr
  • BBC News, Washington

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Polls show that Americans are increasingly concerned about immigration and the handling of the US-Mexico border.

The US Supreme Court has blocked a Texas immigration law that the Biden administration has called unconstitutional from taking effect.

The law, known as SB4, would allow local and state police to arrest people suspected of illegally crossing the border from Mexico.

If implemented, the immigration measure would be among the toughest passed by any US state.

The Supreme Court had repeatedly delayed SB4’s implementation.

In Monday’s ruling, the justices imposed an administrative stay, meaning the law cannot be enforced while emergency appeals from the Biden administration and other challengers play out.

SB4 would empower local and state police officers to stop and arrest anyone suspected of having crossed the border illegally, except in schools, healthcare facilities and places of worship.

Punishments would range from misdemeanours to felonies and potential imprisonment, or fines of up to $2,000 (£1,570).

Penalties for illegal re-entry to Texas could go up to 20 years in prison, depending on a person’s immigration and criminal history.

SB4 was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in December and was initially due to come into effect on 5 March, but was repeatedly stopped amid an ongoing lawsuit.

The Supreme Court is still considering the law and may ultimately strike it down.

Governor Abbott – a Republican closely linked with former President Donald Trump – has repeatedly argued that SB4 is necessary to reduce migrant crossings, and that the Biden administration has not done enough to secure the border.

The law, however, was challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union and the US Department of Justice, which argued that SB4 conflicted with federal authority to maintain security at the US border.

As a result, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the law, saying that it threatened “the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice”.

But the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals paused that ruling, leading the Biden administration to file the emergency request to the US Supreme Court.

Over 6.3 million migrants – a record high – have been detained crossing into the US illegally since Mr Biden took office in January 2021.

Polls show that immigration and the US-Mexico border is a rising concern for American voters ahead of the November 2024 election.

A Gallup poll released in late February, for example, found that nearly 30% of Americans believe immigration is the most important problem facing the country, significantly higher than government, the economy and inflation.

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