US court upholds suspension of Texas border security law, a win for Biden

A US appeals court on Wednesday put on hold a Republican-backed Texas law that would allow state authorities to arrest and prosecute people suspected of illegally crossing the US-Mexico border – a statute that President Joe Biden’s administration has argued infringes on federal authority.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused Texas’ plea to let the law go into effect while the state appealed a judge’s verdict banning it.

The measure, legally known as S.B. 4, has become a flashpoint in a larger dispute between Texas and the Biden administration over border security and immigration. It would make illegal entry or re-entry into Texas from a foreign nation a state crime, and it would give state judges the authority to order violators to leave the country, with prison penalties of up to 20 years for those who refuse.

The 5th Circuit panel’s decision was the most recent of three rapid-fire opinions on the state of the law. The Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect last week, but the 5th Circuit panel hours later reinstated U.S. District Judge David Ezra’s February injunction that prevented implementation.

Ezra, based in Austin, cited a 2012 Supreme Court decision involving an Arizona legislation that stated that states cannot enact immigration enforcement methods that contradict federal law.

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

The Biden administration’s complaint, filed in January, claimed that the policy violates the US Constitution and federal law by interfering with the US government’s authority to restrict immigration and contradicting the 2012 Supreme Court judgment.

The administration has stated that immigration is solely the responsibility of the federal government, and that the Texas bill would undermine implementation of complex U.S. laws that establish deportation procedures and allow migrants to request for asylum and other legal status.

Immigration and border security are prominent topics among voters ahead of the November 5 election in the United States, in which the Democratic president seeks a second term. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate running against him, pursued tight immigration policies during his presidency.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a staunch Republican critic of Biden’s immigration policies, signed the legislation in December, seeing it as a critical move to combat an increase in illegal immigration. Texas officials have blamed Biden for a surge in illegal border crossings, which they say drains states’ resources and harms public safety.

According to the Biden administration, involvement from Texas and other states exacerbates the border crisis.

It and other opponents of the Texas measure argue that migrants who cross the border can already be charged with illegal entrance or re-entry under federal law. Advocates for migrants have warned that the law might lead to racial profiling by state officials of people who are already in Texas.

The challenge to the Texas law is one of several legal battles between Republican state officials and the Biden administration over the state’s ability to police the border, which includes the installation of razor-wire fencing and a 1,000-foot-long (300-meter) floating barrier in the Rio Grande River.

On March 19, Iowa lawmakers passed a law similar to the Texas measure, which is now awaiting the Republican governor’s signature. Several additional states are considering permitting the arrest of anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally.

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