Texas is on a likely collision course with the federal government over immigration once again after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a new bill that challenges the boundaries of states’ authority over enforcement of immigration law.

The bill allows police to arrest migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border and gives local judges the authority to order them to leave the country. If the law takes effect in March, any Texas police officer could arrest people who are suspected of entering the country illegally and gives those people a choice between agreeing to leave the country or facing prosecution on misdemeanor charges of illegal entry. The charges become a felony if a migrant chooses not to leave and is arrested again.

“Biden’s deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” Abbott said during a bill-signing event on Monday.

It’s the latest example of Texas’ governor directly fighting the federal government on immigration and the situation at the border. He has also sent thousands of migrants to Democratic-led cities across the country and fought to keep buoys floating in the Rio Grande in an effort to keep migrants from crossing into the U.S.

Some sheriffs in areas along the border were opposed to the bill over the lack of additional resources to process and hold people who are arrested for illegally entering the country and the strain on a limited pool of officers that are trying to respond to other emergencies.

“It would take away from us doing our regular duties because you have to remember that we are the first responders, we answered 911 calls, accidents,” Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar told WOAI.

There are also questions about the practicality of asking local law enforcement to interpret and enforce immigration laws that are set on the federal level. America’s immigration system is known for being inefficient and confusing for migrants hoping to enter the U.S. to seek asylum or otherwise and Congress has been able to pass a significant overhaul for decades.

“If you’re granted asylum in the United States there’s about 10 different documents that you could produce if you were stopped that would show that you in fact, were granted asylum. Ten different ways, 10 different documents you could show,” said Erin Corcoran, a professor at Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.. “To ask cops to understand all of those documents is a nightmare It’s an administrative nightmare for cops to decide who actually has a right to be here and who’s illegal.”

It is already subject to legal challenges with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and other groups filing a lawsuit on Tuesday. The Department of Justice could also follow suit, as the Biden administration has frequently clashed with Texas and other Republican-controlled states along the border on immigration policy and enforcement of laws targeting those who unlawfully enter the U.S.

“We’re suing to block one of the most extreme anti-immigrant bills in the country,” said Adriana Piñon, legal director of the ACLU of Texas. “The bill overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans, in particular Brown and Black communities.”

The legal battle could make it all the way to the Supreme Court, which could result in it revisiting Arizona v. United States, a 2012 case that narrowly gave the federal government the authority to set immigration policy.

While the court has a conservative makeup, some legal scholars say it is unlikely Texas would come away from the case with a new legal precedent for superseding federal immigration law.

“They tend to really care about the separation of powers and the division of state and federal laws regardless of the issue there for the integrity of the court. They’re going to be more likely, regardless of the issue to preserve those separations of power,” Corcoran said. “It’s very clear that the court has always held that immigration is a federal issue, particularly I think even more so on the southern border because it’s a sovereignty issue.”

While the Supreme Court ruling in Texas’ favor in a lawsuit may be unlikely, there are significant stakes that will go through the nation’s court system, which is frequently left to dictate immigration policy with a lack of action from Congress.

“If states begin to start doing this or think that they can enact their own immigration policies, it’s completely unworkable. You would end up with 50 different state policies on top of federal and it would drive uncertainty and chaos, and create lots and lots of negative effects,” said Jennie Murray, president and CEO of National Immigration Forum.

A legal battle over the legislation will likely play out as 2024 campaigns begin to pick up with control of the White House and both chambers of Congress at stake.

The signing of the bill also comes as senators and the White House are in the midst of negotiations on strengthening security at the border and limiting asylum as part of a package that would provide military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. President Joe Biden and other Democratic candidates are facing increasing pressure to address the situation at the southern border that has seen record levels of crossings.

Cross-border rail traffic was suspended on Monday in the cities of Eagle Pass and El Paso in response to migrants riding freight trains through Mexico and hopping off before reaching the border. Arrests for illegal crossings have surpassed 2 million in both of the last two U.S. budget years.

The high-profile legislation and resulting lawsuits are likely to add pressure on the negotiations, which are stretching out into the holidays as senators and the White House come to a deal. Even if a deal is reached, its path forward through the GOP-led House is uncertain as some conservative lawmakers have called for stricter measures than what is being discussed.

“If we say that immigration is federal, then Congress should be able to solve this with the administration together and obviously that’s not happening, so this does put pressure on the Senate negotiations, and whether that pressure is good or not, is yet to be seen,” Murray said.

Despite bipartisan interest from voters in lawmakers working across the aisle to find solutions to the nation’s backlogged and inefficient immigration system, partisan politics and objections have gotten in the way of significant reform for years despite multiple rounds of talks. A recent National Immigration Forum poll of registered voters found 86% supported the idea of a candidate to work across the aisle to pass immigration reforms to address labor shortages and inflation and to protect people who are already in the U.S. and contributing.

Related Posts