Lawsuit Challenges Texas Efforts to Restrict Illegal Border Crossings – Civil rights organizations lodged a lawsuit against a recently enacted Texas law supported by Republicans. The law grants extensive authority to state officials for the apprehension, prosecution, and deportation of individuals unlawfully crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Filed in a federal court in Austin, Texas, the lawsuit argues that the law, signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott on Monday, illegitimately encroaches upon the federal government’s constitutional authority to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. Led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the groups asserted that the law, set to be effective in March, unlawfully prevents migrants from seeking asylum or other humanitarian protections from the U.S. government.
Designated as SB4, the law criminalizes the illegal entry or re-entry into Texas from a foreign country, providing state and local law enforcement the authority to apprehend and prosecute offenders. Additionally, it empowers state judges to issue deportation orders, imposing potential 20-year prison sentences on migrants who resist compliance. This measure, passed by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature in November, is now in effect.
Adriana Pinon, legal director of the ACLU’s Texas chapter, noted that the law stands out as one of the most rigorous immigration enforcement measures implemented by a U.S. state. “The bill overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans, in particular Brown and Black communities,” Pinon said in a statement.
On Monday, Governor Abbott asserted the necessity of the law, attributing it to the Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration’s perceived failure in curbing an increase in illegal migration. Before the lawsuit was initiated, Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, pointed out that the Texas law was susceptible to legal challenges.
He referred to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, stating that Arizona couldn’t empower state officials to arrest and prosecute individuals for being in the United States illegally, as that fell exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Paxton, a Republican, told state lawmakers during a hearing in March that the 2012 decision “didn’t make a lot of sense” and that passing SB4 could give the Supreme Court’s conservative majority a chance to revisit the ruling.
Texas finds itself entangled in a series of legal battles stemming from Governor Abbott’s initiatives to prevent and penalize illegal border crossings, collectively known as Operation Lone Star. In October, a U.S. appeals court determined that advocacy groups lacked the legal standing to challenge Abbott’s 2021 executive order restricting the transportation of migrants through the state.
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Subsequently, in November, a federal judge dismissed Texas’ attempt to prevent federal immigration authorities from dismantling razor wire fencing installed by the state along the border with Mexico to discourage illegal crossings. The following day, an appeals court upheld a judge’s decision mandating Texas to remove a 305-meter long floating barrier placed in the Rio Grande.