Texas Governor Greg Abbott has taken it upon himself of late to make American immigration policy even more barbaric. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that he can’t actually do that. For now, at least!
Abbott, a (prepare to be shocked) Republican, is known for shipping tens of thousands of migrants to Democratic-led cities across the country, after lying to those migrants about where they were going and what resources would be waiting for them once they arrived. For the past three years, at Abbott’s directive, Texas officials have also been establishing obstacles along the nation’s southern border with Mexico. By September 2023, that included 29 miles worth of barbed wire near the town of Eagle Pass. This physical barrier prevents the federal Border Patrol from, well, patrolling the border, and from providing life-saving aid to migrants who are at risk of heat exhaustion, drowning, and other serious injuries.
Abbott’s little stunt costs lives. Just last week, a mother and her two children drowned in the Rio Grande while Texas National Guard officers prevented Border Patrol agents from helping them. This is astonishing, in part because under the Constitution, the federal government is solely responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, and does not need the permission of Texas, a state which can remember the Alamo all it wants but is not an independent republic.
After Border Patrol agents began cutting the barbed wire in order to perform their legal, professional, and moral duty of helping people who are drowning, Texas sued. Remarkably, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit took Abbott’s side, entering an order blocking the Biden administration from “damaging, destroying, or otherwise interfering” with the barbed wire. State personnel have also threatened to arrest Border Patrol when they do cut the wire. (The order has an exception for emergencies, but it can take as long as thirty minutes to cut through the layers of razor wire, which makes the exception sort of useless.)
Basically, a three-judge, all-Republican panel of the Fifth Circuit held that federal law must be subservient to the prerogatives of Greg Abbott—at least when there’s a Democrat in the White House. “Texas is exercising its rights only as a proprietor,” the panel wrote, and “is neither directly regulating the Border Patrol nor discriminating against the federal government.”
The federal government appealed, and asked the Supreme Court to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s injunction in the meantime. On Monday, the Court granted the request by a one-justice margin, over the dissents of Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. The order had no accompanying opinions, so none of the justices’ rationales are public. But whatever their reasoning, four Republican legal luminaries would have effectively given a single Republican-led state veto power over U.S. immigration law enforcement.
This should not be a close call for anyone who has ever read the Constitution, or just been in the same room as the Constitution. But it is a close one for a far-right Court that is dedicated to preventing Democrats from exercising any political power, and endangering the lives of vulnerable people.