A federal judge on Feb. 29 temporarily blocked a Texas law that would allow law enforcement to arrest people suspected of illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border.

The new law, Senate Bill 4, was scheduled to take effect March 5. Siding with the federal government and several immigrant rights organizations, U.S. District Judge David Ezra issued a 114-page order preventing Texas from enforcing the law.

Ezra wrote that the federal government, which is in charge of enforcing immigration restrictions, would “suffer grave irreparable harm” under SB 4.

“If allowed to proceed, SB 4 could open the door to each state passing its own version of immigration laws,” Ezra said in the ruling. “The effect would moot the uniform regulation of immigration throughout the country and force the federal government to navigate a patchwork of inconsistent regulations.”

The details

Texas quickly appealed Ezra’s ruling to the ​​5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We will not back down in our fight to protect our state—and our nation—from President [Joe] Biden's border crisis,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.

Abbott and lawyers representing Texas have argued SB 4 is necessary to stop an “invasion” by cartels and undocumented immigrants. Ezra rejected the state’s claim in his ruling.

“Even accepting that some small number [of] immigrants do traffic drugs or have cartel affiliations, Texas cannot genuinely maintain that noncitizens crossing the border are an organized military force aimed at conquest or plunder,” Ezra wrote.

He added that unauthorized immigration is not new to Texas, which has relied on federal enforcement for decades.

“The Court does not doubt the risk that cartels and drug trafficking pose to many people in Texas,” Ezra wrote. “But as explained, Texas can (and does) already criminalize those activities. Nothing in this order stops those enforcement efforts. ... Disagreement with the federal government’s immigration policy does not justify a violation of the Supremacy Clause.”

Breaking down the bill

SB 4 would make illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border a state misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a $2,000 fine. Repeat offenders would face higher penalties.

For the first time, state and local law enforcement could arrest undocumented immigrants under the law.

Judges could prosecute migrants or order them to leave the country. Local police would transport migrants to the border under a judge’s direction but could not force them to cross.

Abbott signed SB 4 in December. The U.S. Department of Justice, El Paso County and two immigrant rights groups later sued Texas, arguing the law was unconstitutional and would promote racial profiling.

Lawyers for Texas and the federal government argued the case in an Austin courthouse on Feb. 15. Ahead of the hearing, Julio Vasquez, a pastor from the border city of Eagle Pass, shared his concerns about SB 4 with reporters.

“Eagle Pass ... is not invaded by immigrants; it is invaded by the military,” an interpreter said on behalf of Vasquez, who spoke in Spanish. “If we continue to allow our country to be governed by anti-immigrant laws, our Hispanic community and other communities will be greatly impacted.”

What they’re saying

Ezra wrote that Texas could violate the U.S. Constitution by deporting migrants who may be eligible for federal asylum.

“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.,” said Edna Yang, co-executive director of the immigration advocacy organization American Gateways, in a statement celebrating the ruling. “The only way to fix our broken immigration system is through federal congressional action, not individual state action.”

Aron Thorn, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the ruling “[shows] the state of Texas and Governor Abbott that they do not have the power to enforce unconstitutional, state-run immigration policies.”