Appeals court puts controversial Texas immigration law back on hold


A federal appeals court late Tuesday night put Texas’ controversial immigration law back on hold, hours after the Supreme Court had cleared the way for the state to begin enforcing the measure.

In a brief order, a three-judge panel at the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to wipe away a previous ruling from a different panel that had temporarily put the law, which would allow state officials to arrest and detain their people suspect of entering the country illegally, into effect.

The panel of judges that issued Tuesday night’s order is already set to hear arguments Wednesday morning on Texas’ request to put the law, Senate Bill 4, back into effect pending the state’s appeal of a federal judge’s block on the law.

One member – Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham – publicly dissented, saying he would let the law remain in effect for now.

“I would leave that stay in place pending tomorrow’s oral argument on the question,” he wrote.

Regardless of how the 5th Circuit acts following Wednesday’s arguments, the appeals court will still hold arguments next month over whether the law is unconstitutional and should be blocked indefinitely.

The legal jockeying over SB 4 had made its way all the way to the Supreme Court, which earlier Tuesday cleared the way for the measure to go into effect after the justices rejected emergency appeals from the Biden administration and others. The decision had handed a significant – yet temporary – win to Texas, which has been battling the Biden administration over immigration policy.

Hours later, the appeals court scheduled oral arguments over whether to block the law while it considers the legal challenges to it. The court sets Wednesday’s virtual oral arguments for 11 a.m. ET.

SB 4, signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in December, makes entering Texas illegally a state crime and allows state judges to order immigrants to be deported. Immigration enforcement, generally, is a function of the federal government.

The law immediately raised concerns among immigration advocates of increased racial profiling as well as detentions and attempted deportations by state authorities in Texas, where Latinos represent 40% of the population.

A federal judge in Austin had blocked the state government from implementing the law, holding last month that it “could open the door to each state passing its own version of immigration laws.”

The Supreme Court’s three liberal justices also raised concerns over the law as they dissented from the high court’s order that permitted it to take effect for a short period on Tuesday.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose dissent was joined by fellow liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, said the order “invites further chaos and crisis in immigration enforcement.”

The law, Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, “upends the federal-state balance of power that has existed for over a century, in which the National Government has had exclusive authority over entry and removal of noncitizens.”

The case could soon make its way back to the Supreme Court.

This story has been updated with additional developments.