Federal appeals court puts Texas immigration law again back on hold hours after Supreme Court approved it


A Texas law that empowers local police to arrest and deport migrants accused of entering the U.S. illegally has again been put on hold, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed its enforcement.

The Supreme Court’s divided decision to allow Texas to assume border security duties marked a significant win for the state’s efforts to control illegal immigration from Mexico. It was short-lived, however, as hours later, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 order preventing the law, known as Senate Bill 4, from taking effect.

The appeals court panel’s decision comes ahead of arguments before the court on Wednesday.

SB 4 has remained in legal limbo since Gov. Greg Abbott controversially signed it into law in December. The Biden administration has sued to strike down the measure, arguing that the law would usurp federal authority on matters related to immigration enforcement.


Migrants in a river, barbed wire

Migrants wait to climb over concertina wire after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, lifted a stay on a Texas law that gives police broad powers to arrest migrants suspected of crossing the border illegally, while a legal battle over immigration authority plays out.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an early stay the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued on SB 4 in February.

The ruling was not focused on the merits of the case.

Supreme Court building

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals order came hours after the Supreme Court’s divided decision allowed Texas to assume border security duties. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The court also did not explain its reasoning for ending the stay, but Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh suggested it could rule differently on the merits itself.

“Before this Court intervenes on the emergency docket, the Fifth Circuit should be the first mover,” Barrett wrote.


“So far as I know, this Court has never reviewed the decision of a court of appeals to enter — or not enter — an administrative stay. I would not get into the business. When entered, an administrative stay is supposed to be a short-lived prelude to the main event: a ruling on the motion for a stay pending appeal,” she wrote.

Migrants walking near border

Senate Bill 4 has remained in legal limbo since Gov. Greg Abbott controversially signed it into law in Dec. 2023. (Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Texas National Guard soldiers

Texas National Guard soldiers wait nearby the boat ramp where law enforcement enter the Rio Grande at Shelby Park on January 26, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas.  (Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images)

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson issued a scathing dissent, accusing their conservative counterparts of inviting “further chaos and crisis in immigration enforcement.”

“Texas passed a law that directly regulates the entry and removal of noncitizens and explicitly instructs its state courts to disregard any ongoing federal immigration proceedings. That law 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,” Sotomayor said.

The high court’s decision sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit, which blocked it again, setting up another Supreme Court battle.

The border wall

Mexico stands vehemently opposed to the Texas immigration law. (HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Mexico stands vehemently opposed to the Texas law and Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary said in a sharply worded statement that it would refuse to take any migrants back who are deported under the state law.


The government said it “categorically rejects” any state or local government enforcement of immigration laws.

“Mexico reiterates the legitimate right to protect the rights of its nationals in the United States and to determine its own policies regarding entry into its territory,” the government said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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