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An appeals court puts controversial Texas immigration law on hold


Migrants in Texas are waking up this morning to a new day of anxiety after a whirlwind of court orders yesterday.


OK. This is all part of a legal battle over an immigration enforcement law that the state of Texas passed last year. So this is the state weighing in on immigration. The law empowers police in Texas to arrest people that they suspect are living in the United States illegally and then it allows local judges to order that migrants be deported to Mexico, regardless of what country they may be originally from. For several hours yesterday, the United States Supreme Court allowed this law to be enforced, and then a lower court hit the pause button again.

MARTIN: Julian Aguilar from the Texas Newsroom is here with us with the latest. Good morning, Julian.


MARTIN: So would you just start by walking us through all the legal developments yesterday and the arguments from both sides?

AGUILAR: Sure. So the law, known as SB4, was originally scheduled to take effect earlier this month, but the Biden administration and immigrant rights groups sued to block it. They argue that the measure is discriminatory and usurps the federal government's responsibility to enforce immigration law. Texas leaders, including Governor Greg Abbott, say the law is necessary because of President Biden's open border policies. They point to a record number of asylum seekers entering the U.S. through Texas. The legal battle swiftly rose to the U.S. Supreme Court, and yesterday the High Court allowed the law to take effect. The justices didn't take a position on the merits of the case, but instead deferred to an original decision by a three-judge federal panel of the appeals court. Then late last night, a different set of judges on the same appeals court voted two to one to keep that law blocked. And those judges will hear arguments today on whether it should be kept on hold as the case plays out.

MARTIN: So at any moment, perhaps as soon as today, the appeals court could allow the law to be implemented. And if that happens, what do we know about how local police might enforce it?

AGUILAR: So local law enforcement officers say they will comply, but they have concerns about how the law will affect their day-to-day operations. Sheriff Oscar Carrillo from Culberson County, along the West Texas border, says he supports the law, but he's also concerned about how much it could cost his rural border county and others like it.

OSCAR CARRILLO: I think we're going to be very selective about the cases we pick up. Our jail is at capacity as we speak today, and to start incarcerating undocumented people and charging them with misdemeanor crime is a discussion I'll have to have with my county attorney.

AGUILAR: That's a common sentiment. As officials have said, they don't have a lot of guidance on how to implement the law.

MARTIN: So let's say for the sake of argument that the law does take effect. If that happens, talk about some of the legal issues that people living in Texas might face.

AGUILAR: Sure. So civil and immigrant rights organizations, they have a lot of concerns. The chief among them is that police will have blanket authority to question somebody about their immigration status because of the way they look. Alan Lizarraga with the Border Network for Human Rights says he's concerned about the law's impact on people of color and mixed status families in Texas.

ALAN LIZARRAGA: We know that this law is going to increase racial profiling. We know that this law is going to strip people of their constitutional rights. We know that this law is also going to lead to the mass criminalization of our communities.

AGUILAR: It's also been argued by opponents of the bill that a migrant with a legitimate claim to asylum could have their case put in jeopardy because of this law, as they could face state criminal charges.

MARTIN: And what are officials in Mexico saying about all this?

AGUILAR: Yeah. There was a strong response from the Mexican government in the short time the law was in effect. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it won't accept migrants that have been deported under the Texas law. It also said it will file a brief in opposition to SB4 that highlights the challenges the law presents to the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

MARTIN: That's Julian Aguilar from the Texas Newsroom. Julian, thank you.

AGUILAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Julian Aguilar