Federal Judge Blocks Texas Law Allowing Police to Arrest Migrants Suspected of Being in Country Illegally

In December, ​​the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project sued Texas on behalf of El Paso County and two immigrant rights organizations —El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and Austin-based American Gateways —over the new state law. The following month, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its lawsuit against Texas. The lawsuits have since been combined.

During a court hearing on Feb. 15 in Austin, the Department of Justice argued that SB 4 is unconstitutional because courts have ruled that immigration solely falls under the federal government’s authority.

The lawyer representing Texas, Ryan Walters, argued that the high number of migrants arriving at the border — some of them smuggled by drug cartels — constitutes an invasion and Texas has a right to defend itself under Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from engaging in war on their own “unless actually invaded.”

Ezra said that he “is not unsympathetic to the concerns raised by Abbott,” but appeared unconvinced by Walters’ argument.

I haven’t seen, and the state of Texas can’t point me to any type of military invasion in Texas,” Ezra said. “I don’t see evidence that Texas is at war.”

Immigrant rights advocates around the state celebrated the ruling because they worried that SB 4 would lead to border residents’ rights being violated.

We celebrate today’s win, blocking this extreme law from going into effect before it has the opportunity to harm Texas communities,” said Aron Thorn, senior attorney for the Beyond Border Program at Texas Civil Rights Project. “This is a major step in showing the State of Texas and Governor Abbott that they do not have the power to enforce unconstitutional, state-run immigration policies.”

Edna Yang, co-executive director at American Gateways, said that SB 4 does not fix “our broken immigration system” and it will divide communities.

“This decision is a victory for all our communities as it stops a harmful, unconstitutional, and discriminatory state policy from taking effect and impacting the lives of millions of Texans,” she said. “Local officials should not be federal immigration agents, and our state should not be creating its own laws that deny people their right to seek protection here in the U.S.”

David Donatti, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, said the ruling is an “important win for Texas values, human rights, and the U.S. Constitution.”

Our current immigration system needs repair because it forces millions of Americans into the shadows and shuts the door on people in need of safety. S.B. 4 would only make things worse,” he said. “Cruelty to migrants is not a policy solution.”

Uriel J. García is an immigration reporter based in El Paso.  This story is published courtesy of the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.