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A controversial immigration law in Texas will be back in court

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A Texas immigration law is back in court today for a crucial test.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The law, known as SB4, passed the Republican-dominated legislature in Texas, and it asserts a state role in enforcing federal immigration rules. It empowers police in Texas to arrest people they suspect are living in the United States illegally. It allows local judges to order people deported to Mexico, whether they're from Mexico or not. The law is on hold awaiting today's federal appeals court hearing, which is in New Orleans.

MARTÍNEZ: Julian Aguilar from the Texas Newsroom is here with a preview. So what can we expect today?

JULIAN AGUILAR, BYLINE: So today's arguments will focus on whether the Texas law conflicts with the federal government's authority to enforce immigration policy. Senate Bill 4 - it was supposed to go into effect in early March. It was placed on hold after the Biden administration and the coalition of immigrant and civil rights groups sued to stop its implementation. So, of course, Texas appealed that decision. Then the case pingponged up to the U.S. Supreme Court and back down to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that's where oral arguments are going to take place today.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, then. These lawsuits from the Biden administration and advocacy groups - I mean, they allege what exactly? I mean, that Texas is what, giving itself too much authority over immigration enforcement?

AGUILAR: Yeah. Yes, that's the key...

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

AGUILAR: ...Component, that immigration policies have historically been crafted and enforced by the federal government and not individual states. The lawsuits also argue that the law will lead to racial profiling of people of color, mainly because the law can be enforced statewide and not just on the state's southern border. So it's important to keep in mind that the three appeals court judges hearing arguments today on the merits of the case, they're the same judges who previously ruled 2-1 to keep the law on hold as the case plays out.

MARTÍNEZ: And why is Texas arguing that the law should stand?

AGUILAR: So Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, and other supporters of the bill point to the record number of unauthorized crossings on the southern border. And they say Texas is justified to take matters into its own hands if the federal government won't do its job.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so since this is the same panel of judges that's already decided once to block the law, at least temporarily, I mean, might that hint at what their ruling in this case might be?

AGUILAR: Sure. So it's rarely a good idea to speculate about how judges are going to rule, you know, especially given the dizzying set of offense that got us here. But it's fair to say we at least have a glimpse of what the judges are thinking when they decided to keep the law on hold. So Judge Priscilla Richman wrote that the Supreme Court has held for more than 150 years that immigration enforcement - that's including the admission and removal of people - was the federal government's duty. Richman also acknowledged the possibility this law could sour relations with foreign governments, most notably Mexico, which has already come out forcefully against this bill.

MARTÍNEZ: How is this whole debate playing out in Texas?

AGUILAR: So immigrant rights groups have held Know Your Rights events to alert the public at large about risks of the legislation, and they worry about how SB4 can affect mixed-status families. That's where, you know, at least one person is undocumented. They also say it's unclear what probable cause is. How will police decide whom to question? And meanwhile, local police and county sheriffs, even those that support law enforcement, say they don't have a lot of guidance on how to enforce the law, should it go into effect.

MARTÍNEZ: When do you think this will be resolved?

AGUILAR: So legal experts say we can expect a final decision from the Fifth Circuit probably a little sooner than we normally would. And, of course, Texas has the option to ask the full court to let the law go into effect while it waits on that decision. But an ultimate decision will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court, which means this fight could drag on for quite some time.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Julian Aguilar of the Texas Newsroom. Thanks a lot.

AGUILAR: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Julian Aguilar