Texas Immigration Bill Heading Back to Court

S.B. 4

A plan to tackle illegal immigration into Texas is due to have another day in court this week as Governor Greg Abbott fights to push through Senate Bill 4.

The bill, which would allow Texas officials to make their own arrests, detainments, and deportations without being overseen by federal authorities, has been working its way through the legal system since last year. While proponents say the bill would help manage immigration into the state and increase public safety, critics argue it is unconstitutional and authorizes untrained police officers to make complex decisions about immigration law.

It comes amid a febrile debate across the state and the rest of the country about immigration, with some other Republican-led states, such as Arkansas and South Dakota, sending their own troops to help monitor the Texas-Mexico border. Tensions have reached boiling point, with a standoff between state and federal authorities even sparking fear the situation could spiral into a civil war.

S.B. 4 was passed during a special Texas legislative session in November 2023, but has since been the subject of various legal wrangling and is not currently in effect.

Texas National Guard troops look on after immigrants crossed the Rio Grande on September 27, 2023. Senate Bill 4 will be considered again by judges this week.

John Moore/Getty Images

The issue will be back in court this week when a three-judge panel will assess whether S.B. 4 violates the Constitution. The hearing will take place at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and attorneys for both sides will have 30 minutes to convince the panel of their arguments.

Newsweek reached out to Abbott and the White House for comment.

S.B. 4 was initially supposed to be implemented on March 5, but the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas granted a motion for a preliminary injunction to block S.B. 4 from going into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court then placed an administrative stay on S.B. 4, effectively preventing Texas from enforcing it.

On March 19, the U.S. Supreme Court made a surprise decision to reverse its decision, voting 6-3 to allow the law to go into effect.

However, just a week later, on March 27, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals extended the hold on the law with a 2-1 decision that S.B. 4 should remain blocked as litigation continues.

Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks in Austin, Texas, on March 15, 2023. Abbott hopes S.B. 4 will grant his state sweeping new powers to fight illegal immigration.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Biden administration has argued against the bill, saying the law would violate almost 150 years of the precedent—meaning that only the federal government has the sole authority to regulate immigration.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last month that S.B. 4 was “harmful and unconstitutional.” She added: “S.B. 4 will not only make communities in Texas less safe, it will also burden law enforcement, and sow chaos and confusion at our southern border.”

Mexico has also waded into the fight, releasing a press statement saying there needed to be a “uniform migration policy” and added that Mexico “will not accept, under any circumstances, repatriations by the State of Texas.”

Rural sheriffs in Texas have voiced concern about how to house the anticipated influx of arrested migrants if the bill becomes law.

Terrell County Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland, who served as a U.S. Border Patrol agent before switching to local law enforcement, told ABC 7 that he supports the proposed law to make his county and the state more secure but pointed out the county jail has the capacity to hold just seven people.

Discussing S.B. 4 with Newsweek, he said, “We will, however, have a few things we need to figure out before we begin apprehending and charging illegals under S.B. 4. Funding and resources are the two biggest constraints for my office.”

The Texas governor is convinced his policies targeting illegal immigration—dubbed “Operation Lone Star”—are already proving to be effective.

“Illegal crossings are going down in [Texas] while at the same time they are skyrocketing in [California] & [Arizona],” Abbott wrote on X (formerly Twitter) last week. “It’s [because] of the border wall, razor wire barriers, the National Guard & arrests by [Texas Department of Public Safety].”