Louisiana lawmakers approve bill similar to Texas' embattled migrant enforcement law

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana bill that would empower state and local law enforcement to arrest and jail people in the state who entered the U.S. illegally received approval from lawmakers Wednesday and will likely soon be on the governor's desk.

Amid national fights between Republican states and Democratic President Joe Biden over how and who should enforce the U.S.-Mexico border, a growing list of GOP-led states have passed measures seeking to push deeper into migrant enforcement. However, laws similar to Louisiana's legislation — in Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas — are currently facing legal challenges.

Texas was allowed to enforce its migrant enforcement law for only a few confusing hours in March while legal fights bounced around federal courts. During that time, Texas authorities announced no arrests made under the law, and the brief window revealed that many sheriffs were unprepared, unable or uninterested in enforcing it.

Texas' law remains on hold by a federal appeals court's three-judge panel, which heard arguments from both supporters and opponents in April. It is unclear when the panel will issue a ruling.

Like the Texas law, Louisiana’s bill seeks to expand the authority of state and local law enforcement. The bill would create the crime of “illegal entry or reentry” into Louisiana, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $4,000 fine for a first offense, and up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine for a second offense.

In addition, Sen. Valarie Hodges, the Republican sponsoring the bill, said it would “start the deportation process.” Currently, the enforcement of immigration law regarding illegal entry and deportations has long been the exclusive domain of federal law enforcement.

Proponents of such legislation argue that it is needed to protect U.S. citizens, accusing the federal government, specifically Biden, of neglecting responsibilities to enforce immigration law.

The Biden administration has said that the law illegally encroaches on federal authority over immigration enforcement. Additionally, opponents argue that the bill is unconstitutional, will not do anything to make the state safer, and will fuel negative and false rhetoric directed toward migrants.

Across the nation, reliably red legislatures have advanced tougher immigration enforcement measures.

The Oklahoma House passed a bill that would prohibit state revenue from being used to provide benefits to those living in the state illegally. In Tennessee the governor recently signed a bill into law that requires law enforcement agencies in the state to communicate with federal immigration authorities if they discover people who are in the country illegally. Measures that mirror parts of the Texas law are currently scheduled to go into effect in Oklahoma and Iowa in July.

Louisiana's bill passed in the House on Wednesday along party lines, after only three minutes of floor conversation and without any lawmaker going to the podium to argue against it. The bill will return to the GOP-dominated Senate to concur on minor amendments, a procedural step. If the Senate concurs, which is more than likely will, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Landry, who has been an outspoken supporter of states getting involved in migrant law enforcement.

If the Republican signs the bill into law, it would take effect only if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Texas law or if the U.S. Constitution is amended to increase local border enforcement authority, based on language in the legislation.

Although Louisiana does not border Mexico, bills and policies targeting migrants suspected of entering the country illegally have been pushed to the forefront over the past four months under new conservative leadership. Earlier this week, Louisiana lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that, if signed into law, would ban sanctuary city policies that allow local law enforcement to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials unless ordered by a court.