Supreme Court temporarily halts rollout of Texas migrant arrest law

A member of a Texas border task force is shown patrolling along the Rio Grande near El Paso on May 11, 2023. The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the implementation of new state law allowing local police to arrest and criminally charge migrants entering the country without authorization. File Photo courtesy of Texas Army National Guard

March 4 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Monday moved to temporarily halt the introduction of a new Texas law under which local authorities would be allowed to arrest migrants believed to be illegally entering the country.

In an order issued by Justice Samuel Alito, the high court delayed the implementation of the measure until 5 p.m. on March 13.

His order stays a decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued over the weekend that would have allowed police to begin enforcing the controversial law as soon as Saturday.

Prior to that, a federal judge in Austin had halted implementation of Senate Bill 4 as the court battle continued playing out. Texas is being sued by the Biden administration and several immigration advocacy organizations over its provisions, which represent the latest attempt by Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott to deter increasing numbers of migrants from crossing the Rio Grande.

Under the law, crossing Texas-Mexico border illegally would become gross misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to six months in jail, with repeat offenders facing possible felony charges with a punishment up to 20 years in prison.

The law also demands that judges order migrants returned to Mexico if they are convicted.

Abbott has called the influx of record numbers of migrant an "invasion" and Republican political candidates across the country, including former President Donald Trump, have used the migrant issue to bash Democrats and President Joe Biden.

The Department of Justice, however, vehemently opposes the Texas law, which it sees as a usurpation of the federal government's constitutional right to control and manage the nation's borders.

"SB 4 is clearly unconstitutional," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said shortly after its adoption in January. "Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and longstanding Supreme Court precedent, states cannot adopt immigration laws that interfere with the framework enacted by Congress."

The administration says the Supreme Court confirmed in Arizona vs. United States that decisions relating to removal of noncitizens from the United States crosses over into the realm of foreign relations, which, it argues, "must be made with one voice."

Giving local Texas authorities the power to unilaterally arrest and deport migrants "impedes the federal government's ability to enforce entry and removal provisions of federal law and interferes with its conduct of foreign relations," Gupta said.