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Federal judge blocks enforcement of controversial Texas immigration law

A federal judge in Austin, Texas, ordered the state government Thursday to suspend enforcement of a controversial law that would allow state law enforcement agents to arrest and detain people they suspect of entering the country illegally.

“If allowed to procced, SB 4 could open the door to each state passing its own version of immigration laws,” Judge David Alan Ezra wrote, granting a preliminary injunction against the law.

The judge rejected the state’s argument that the current influx of migrants across the southern border is an “invasion” that Texas has the right to stop unilaterally. “SB 4 threatens the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice,” Ezra wrote.

Without action from the court, the law was set to go into effect on Tuesday. Plaintiffs include the federal government and El Paso County, which claims enforcing the law would strain its jail system with thousands of new arrests.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said the state would challenge the decision. “Texas will immediately appeal this decision, and we will not back down in our fight to protect our state—and our nation—from President Biden’s border crisis. The President of the United States has a constitutional duty to enforce federal laws protecting States, including laws already on the books that mandate the detention of illegal immigrants,” Abbott said in a statement.

“El Paso County applauds the court’s clear confirmation today that immigration policies rest solely under Federal jurisdiction, and the state of Texas’ interference with the U.S. Constitution will not be tolerated,” said Iliana Holguin, a commissioner for El Paso County.

The White House praised the decision in a statement on Thursday and continued to call on Congress to pass a proposed border deal that has stalled in the Senate.

“We welcome the District Court enjoining Texas’ harmful and unconstitutional law,” White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said.

“The President is focused on delivering the significant policy changes and resources we need to secure the border - that is why we continue to call on Congressional Republicans to pass the bipartisan border security agreement that was negotiated in the Senate,” Fernández Hernández added.

When Abbott signed the measure into law in December, it raised concerns among some immigration advocates who feared a wave of racial profiling as well as detentions and attempted deportations by state authorities.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and the Texas Civil Rights Project argued that the controversial border law was unconstitutional because it preempts federal law and quickly sued after it was signed by Abbott.

Texas, however, has argued that SB4 is complementary — not in conflict — with federal law and that Texas is “entitled to defend itself from an invasion,” especially from what it called a “full-scale invasion of transnational criminal cartels.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting and background information.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and Samantha Waldenberg contributed to this report.

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