El Paso County, along with two immigrant rights organizations, has taken legal action against the state of Texas over a controversial law granting the authority to arrest and deport migrants entering the state illegally. Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) into law a day prior, with the legislation slated to take effect in March. SB 4 permits state and local law enforcement, as well as judges, to order migrants to return to Mexico, challenging the federal government’s exclusive jurisdiction over deportation.
The lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas, contends that SB 4 is unconstitutional as it infringes upon the federal government’s immigration authority.
- Expanded Law Enforcement Powers: SB 4 empowers state and local police to arrest undocumented immigrants in Texas for the first time. Judges could either prosecute them or issue orders for them to leave the country.
- Criminalization of Illegal Entry: The law makes it a state misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a $2,000 fine, to enter Texas illegally from a foreign nation, with increased penalties for repeat offenders.
- Exemptions and Limitations: Migrants cannot be arrested at schools, places of religious worship, or medical facilities, as specified in the bill.
- Defendants and Governor’s Defense: The lawsuit names Col. Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, as a defendant. Governor Abbott argues that Texas has the authority to create and enforce its immigration laws, citing a “border crisis.” He emphasized the law’s design to prevent delays in court.
- Potential Supreme Court Challenge: Abbott expressed openness to a Supreme Court decision that could overturn the precedent set in Arizona v. United States, where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arizona immigration law in 2012.
Adriana Piñon, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, labeled SB 4 as “one of the most extreme anti-immigrant bills in the country.” She argued that it undermines constitutional principles, flouts federal immigration law, and disproportionately harms Brown and Black communities.
Governor Abbott defended the law, stating that it gives police the necessary tools to take action against those entering the border illegally, without allowing racial profiling.
Economic Impact and Costs:
According to the lawsuit, El Paso County anticipates arresting and jailing around 8,000 more people annually under SB 4, incurring an estimated $24 million annually for housing undocumented immigrants and an additional $162 million to expand jail capacity. Similar concerns about financial burdens have been raised in Travis County, which could face costs of at least $9 million per year.
Governor Abbott signed two other bills into law on December 18. One, effective in February, increases criminal penalties for smuggling humans and harboring undocumented immigrants in “stash houses.” The other allocates $1.54 billion for the construction of a border wall along the Texas-Mexico border, scheduled to take effect in March. Lawmakers anticipate building approximately 100 miles of the wall with the new funding. Texas’ special advisor on border matters, Mike Banks, emphasized the need for consequences for violating laws to address the ongoing border crisis.