Supreme Court’s Samuel Alito Pauses Texas Legislation on Illegal Border Crossings

On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito temporarily blocked a judicial decision that would allow a Texas law to take effect that would allow state officials broad powers to prosecute, arrest, and order the removal of individuals who cross the border with Mexico illegally.

Justice Alito issued his order that requested Democrat President Joe Biden’s administration after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals paused a federal judge’s ruling on Saturday that had blocked a GOP-backed Texas law.

Alito’s order is set to expire on March 13, but the justice or full Supreme Court could take additional action before then. Alito handles specific emergency matters that involve cases stemming from a group of states — including Texas. 

The 5th Circuit ruling would have permitted SB4 to go into effect even while the Biden administration pushes forward with a legal challenge that claims the statute interferes unlawfully with the federal government’s enforcement of America’s immigration laws.

The 5th Circuit stayed the decision for a week to allow the administration to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department filed a petition Monday with the Supreme Court that argued the 5th Circuit’s decision was wrong and allowing the law to take effect would harm the U.S. relationship with Mexico and other countries.

“And beyond its disruptive foreign relations effects, SB4 would create chaos in the United States’ efforts to administer federal immigration laws in Texas,” wrote Justice Department lawyers.

GOP Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If Alito hadn’t acted, the law would have taken effect on March 10, pending an appeal of the ruling last week of the decision by U.S. District Judge David Ezra in Austin. In the order, Ezra had said President Biden’s administration is likely to win its legal challenge, citing a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down critical provisions of a similar Arizona immigration law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and immigrant advocates said the Texas law “overrides federal immigration law” and “fuels racial profiling.”

 Migrants, and asylum seekers crossing illegally can be charged under federal law

Asylum seekers and migrants who don’t cross in ports of entry can already be charged with re-entry or entry under federal laws.

The Texas legislation made it a state crime to enter or re-enter Texas illegally from a foreign country. It would allow local and state law enforcement to arrest and prosecute violators. It would also allow state judges to order individuals from the country, with prison sentences of as many as 20 years for those who won’t comply.

The law is part of a more significant effort by the GOP-led state to crack down on irregular border crossings. Republican Governor Greg Abbott, Paxton, and other officials have blamed President Biden for a record increase in illegal immigration and have called actions by Texas, including the installation of a floating barrier in the Rio Grande River and razor wire fencing at the border, as necessary because of the federal government’s inaction.