Appeals Court Strikes Down Challenge to Texas Law Banning Illegal Immigrant Harboring

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals struck down a challenge to a Texas law that prohibits the harboring of illegal immigrants. The court cited a lack of standing by the plaintiffs, and ruled that Texas may continue enforcing its 2015 law, which makes it a felony to harbor illegal immigrants.

The court overturned a preliminary injunction from a federal judge last April that prevented the state from enforcing border security law House Bill 11 because it impeded upon federal authority to regulate immigration.

Both sides celebrated the decision.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the law helps the state curb human trafficking. Lawyers for social service providers and landlords who were opposed to the law said the decision will ensure that they cannot be prosecuted.

When the injuction was issued last April, U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra rejected arguments that the law would target only smuggling and human trafficking, not immigration in particular. Ezra also said enforcement may cause “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs, which included two landlords and a homeless shelter.

A panel of three judges ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they could not demonstrate a “threat” of prosecution.

Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote, “There is no reasonable interpretation by which merely renting housing or providing social services to an illegal alien constitutes ‘harboring.'”

John Wittman, Abbott’s press secretary, said the governor was “proud to sign HB 11 into law to crack down on human smuggling and increase penalties for perpetrators of these horrific crimes.”

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Nina Perales, was satisfied with the court’s ruling, stating that the narrower definition of harboring protected her clients.

“The 5th Circuit reined that in by declaring that ordinary landlords and humanitarian workers are outside the scope of the statute,” said Perales.

Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, applauded the decision.

“Today’s ruling by the 5th Circuit will allow the state to fight the smuggling of humans and illegal contraband by transnational gangs and perpetrators of organized crime,” Paxton said.