The Supreme Court on Tuesday disrupted a key element of U.S. border policy, clearing the way for Texas to begin detaining and deporting migrants who enter the state illegally, even though that law enforcement role has traditionally rested with the federal government Control over international borders.

In a divided, interim ruling, the court’s conservative majority allowed the law to take effect for now while challenges continue in the court system. Two justices in the majority said the Supreme Court could consider intervening again after a lower court decided whether Texas could temporarily continue enforcing the law – or if the lower court fails to do so Act quickly.

The law, known as SB 4, makes it a state crime for migrants to cross the border illegally and allows Texas officials to deport undocumented people, although Mexico said Tuesday that it would not accept anyone sent back by the state. and condemned the law as “promoting family separation, discrimination and racial profiling that violate the human rights of the migrant community.”

The law was passed last year amid a record surge in border crossings and was part of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to expand the state’s role in immigration enforcement.

That of the Supreme Court Decision The three liberal justices faced dissent. Two of them said the majority would bring “further chaos and crisis in immigration enforcement.”

“This bill will disrupt sensitive foreign relations, undermine protections for persons fleeing persecution, impede active federal enforcement efforts, undermine the ability of federal agencies to detect and monitor imminent security threats, and deter noncitizens from engaging in abuse or to report human trafficking,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor , joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called out the high court’s order Tuesday a “huge victory” and said the state law is “now in effect.”

The measure imposes state penalties of up to six months in prison for noncitizens who enter Texas illegally from Mexico. Anyone accused of illegally re-entering the country could face criminal charges and a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. The legislature also authorized state judges to order deportations to Mexico — without Mexico’s consent — and allowed local law enforcement personnel to carry out those orders. Judges can drop state charges if a migrant agrees to voluntarily return to Mexico.

The dispute over the state law is the latest court battle between the Biden administration and GOP leaders in Texas over the proper role of states in enforcing immigration rules, which Republicans have highlighted as a central issue in the 2024 presidential campaign. In January, a divided Supreme Court said the Biden administration could remove razor wire that Texas had installed along the U.S.-Mexico border until the courts decide whether it is legal for the state to erect its own barriers.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that the administration fundamentally disagrees with allowing Texas to enforce a “harmful and unconstitutional law” that “not only reduces the safety of Texas communities, but… “It also puts a strain on law enforcement and sows chaos.” Confusion at our southern border.”

The potential impact of SB 4 on overall border crossings remains to be seen. Abbott and other Texas officials have claimed in recent months that their state crackdown, Operation Lone Star, is already causing migrants and smugglers to change their travel plans and head to Arizona or California instead of Texas. Southern Arizona and the San Diego area are now the two places along the Mexico border where illegal crossings occur, according to the latest U.S. law enforcement data.

The area along the Rio Grande where Abbott stationed Texas state troopers and erected razor wire has become largely quiet in recent months, data show, and illegal entries in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, often the southern border’s main gateway for illegal crossings , have remained relatively low.

A district court judge temporarily blocked the Texas law last month, saying the law was likely unconstitutional and “could open the door to each state adopting its own version of immigration laws.” Judge David A. Ezra said the law was even more intrusive into federal affairs than an Arizona immigration law that the Supreme Court partially struck down in 2012.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit quickly and without explanation halted Ezra’s decision, saying the law could be be enforced, at least temporarily, unless the Supreme Court intervenes. At the time, the Biden administration, El Paso County and immigrant advocacy groups sued to block the law the Supreme Court asked to put it on hold while the litigation continues.

As is typical in emergencies, the majority — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — on Tuesday did not explain their reasons for allowing the law to take effect now. But Justice Amy Coney Barrett, joined by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, said it was premature for the justices to intervene now, before the 5th Circuit decides whether the law should remain in effect during the appeal process. They called on the 5th District to act quickly.

“If a decision is not issued soon, petitioners may return to this court,” Barrett wrote.

Aside from questions about the law’s immediate status, the 5th Circuit has scheduled a hearing for April 3 to consider its constitutionality.

The liberal justices rejected the majority’s argument Tuesday, saying the 5th Circuit had indefinitely upended the status quo by stopping the lower court’s preliminary injunction a one-line procedural order that Sotomayor, along with Jackson, called an “abuse of discretion” in a 10-page dissent.

“This Court makes the same mistake,” Sotomayor wrote, “by allowing a temporary administrative stay to change the status quo that has existed for over a century.”

Kagan wrote separately and briefly that she, too, would have blocked the Texas law from taking effect, noting that immigration and the entry and deportation of noncitizens are “matters that have long been considered the special concern of the federal government.”

In response to the court order, Mexico’s foreign ministry expressed concern for “more than 10 million people” of Mexican descent living in Texas, saying the law creates a hostile environment for migrants. The country has been a key partner in the Biden administration’s migration management strategy, and U.S. authorities say the lower number of illegal border crossings in the past two months is partly due to tougher measures by Mexico.

Jorge Dominguez, an attorney with the El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center – one of the groups challenging the law – said the Supreme Court’s order is a slap in the face that affects not only immigrants in Texas, but also every citizen of color become. Dominguez said his center’s clients, most of whom are immigrants in various types of legal proceedings, have signaled that they would go into hiding and limit their presence in the community if the law takes effect.

“Could I be arrested because I’m Brown, speak fluent Spanish and look like someone who entered Texas illegally?” wondered Dominguez, a U.S. citizen. “This law essentially makes everyone like me vulnerable to every law enforcement officer in the state who wants to play the ‘guess the immigrant’ game.”

Ricardo Samaniego, the top elected official in El Paso County, said he discussed the decision Tuesday with officials throughout his county and with U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D), who has been a harsh critic of Texas’ new law of the Supreme Court. “The nightmare has become reality,” Samaniego said. “It happened and it’s something we’ve been dreading for a while.”

Law enforcement agencies across the state, including the Houston Police Department, said the law threatens their relationships with immigrant communities and could prevent people from calling 911 in emergencies for fear they could face arrest because of their immigration status. Community organizations have been preparing residents for months with workshops about their constitutional right to remain silent and the prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as what to do if they are arrested.

Attorney General Elizabeth B. Prelogar urged the Supreme Court to block the law’s enactment, saying it “prevents the nation from speaking with one voice in foreign affairs” and tramples on federal jurisdictions established by Congress. Implementation, she said, could increase tensions with Mexico and lead to the deportation of migrants whose lives are in danger, in violation of federal law.

Texas defended its law in part by citing limited state war powers, suggesting that the influx of immigrants was comparable to the imminent threat of invasion. A provision of the Constitution that generally prohibits states from waging war provides an exception in the event that a state is “actually attacked or in imminent danger not admitting of delay.”

The district court judge rejected that argument in February, writing that “an increase in illegal immigration alone does not constitute an ‘invasion.'”

Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.

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