Texas to arrest migrants crossing border illegally under new state law

Texas to arrest migrants crossing border illegally under new state law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday signed a law allowing state law enforcement to arrest people suspected of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, giving local officers powers long delegated to the U.S. government in a move likely to trigger legal challenges.

The law, known as SB 4, will take effect in March and create a new state crime for illegal entry or re-entry into Texas, with penalties ranging from 180 days in jail to 20 years in prison. Texas magistrate judges will be required to order migrants to return to Mexico, with up to 20-year sentences for those who refuse to comply.

Migrants who cross illegally can already be charged with illegal entry or re-entry under federal laws but Abbott has sharply criticized U.S. President Joe Biden for failing to enforce them.

“Biden’s deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” Abbott said during a press conference in front of a stretch of state-funded border wall in Brownsville, Texas.

Abbott also signed a bill that would devote $1.5 billion to border wall construction and other operations, funding that comes on top of $5 billion in state funds already appropriated for border enforcement. The Republican governor in late November signed into law a measure to increase penalties for human smuggling.

Record numbers of migrants have been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since Biden, a Democrat, took office in 2021. Abbott and other Republicans blame Biden, who is seeking re-election in 2024, for rolling back restrictive policies of former President Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican Party nomination.

In the U.S. Congress, Republicans have said they will not approve a foreign aid package that includes military funding for Ukraine and Israel unless it includes strict new U.S. border security provisions, leaving the aid stalled as a group of senators try to find a compromise.

More than half of the 5.8 million migrant arrests under Biden took place in Texas and neighboring New Mexico, at times straining the resources of border cities.

Texas has experimented with a range of measures to deter people who cross illegally under its Operation Lone Star, including deploying National Guard troops to the border, blocking migrants with deadly concertina wire and installing a floating barrier over a stretch of the Rio Grande.

A three-judge panel of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month ruled that Texas must remove the floating barrier although Texas is seeking a review by the full court.

In the state’s most prominent action, it has bused thousands of migrants to Democrat-controlled cities further north to alleviate the strain on its border cities and pressure Democrats.

Still, migrants have continued to cross.

Oni Blair, executive director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, has threatened to sue over SB 4, saying it “overrides federal immigration law” and “fuels racial profiling.”

The Supreme Court in 2012 struck down key parts of a similar Arizona law, including a provision that allowed state officers to arrest people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

The 2012 ruling said the provision conflicted with federal law, which took precedence, and that the U.S. immigration system put in place by Congress generally did not authorize state officers to make warrantless arrests of people suspected of being in the country illegally.

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