Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign a bill that would make it a new state crime for entering Texas illegally and gives local law enforcement the power to arrest and order migrants to leave the United States, an extraordinary step in the hard-fought legal battle between the state and the federal government over its efforts to curtail illegal immigration.
The bill, SB4, which gives law enforcement the power to arrest migrants and grants judges the power to issue orders to remove violators to Mexico, has sent ripples of fear throughout the Latino community in Texas –- which makes up 40% of the state’s population.
Civil rights organizations and immigration advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Texas, call the measure “anti-immigrant” and warn that the powers afforded to law enforcement will lead to racial profiling of Latinos, not just on the border but across the state.
The ACLU of Texas condemned the passage of the border bills and called it “some of the most radical anti-immigrant bills ever passed by any state” and threatened to sue Abbott if he signs SB4.
“Texans across the state have resoundingly opposed these bills from the beginning and we’re not backing down. If Gov. Abbott signs S.B. 4 (88-4) into law, we will sue,” Oni K. Blair, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement Tuesday.
A group of 30 former immigration judges, who were appointed and served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, opposed the bill and said it’s unlawful.
“Immigration is plainly a federal function,” the former judges said in a statement. “The proposed Texas legislation, which would allow a state court magistrate judge to issue a removal order, is not lawful.”
When asked last week about possible concerns about the constitutionality of SB4 and possible legal challenges, Abbott said he wouldn’t be surprised if the legislation is challenged in the courts.
“I feel good about the bill that’s on a pathway to reach my desk showing once again, Texas is doing more than any state has ever done in the history of America to address Joe Biden’s open border policies,” the governor said.
The state House also passed SB3 Tuesday, which would appropriate $1.5 billion to build a border wall. It now heads back to the state Senate. Texas taxpayers would be footing between $20 and $30 million per mile of border wall, according to the floor discussion by lawmakers.
SB3 and SB4 were introduced last week after the Republican governor announced a fourth special legislative session with a focus on border security and education. The Texas Senate suspended its rules to swiftly move SB4 through the chamber in a matter of days.
The ongoing surge of migration at the US-Mexico border has placed immense pressure on local and federal resources. Abbott and the Biden administration have sparred over some of the state’s measures along the southern border in its latest effort to curb illegal immigration.
Democratic House members said the bill oversteps on the federal government’s powers and echoes Arizona’s immigration status provision which opponents dubbed the “show me your papers” law. The law was mostly rejected by the US Supreme Court in 2012 when it upheld that the federal government sets immigration policy and laws.
The Republican author of the bill maintains that the bill is constitutional.
At least one Texas Republican is also concerned about the constitutionality of the bill.
Texas state Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Republican and author of the previous version of SB4, expressed his opposition to the bill on the floor of the Senate last week. He said Texas was setting a “terrible precedent” by “invalidating our obedience and faithfulness to our Constitution” – which specifies that “all power and responsibility for immigration is delegated to the federal government.”
Tensions flared on the House floor when a previous version of this bill moved swiftly through the legislature late last month.
“The shit that happens on this goddamn floor hurts,” Democratic Texas state Rep. Armando Walle said in a video posted on social media by a Texas lawmaker.
Walle, a Mexican American lawmaker representing a predominantly Hispanic area of north Houston, issued a statement after the video circulated social media saying the legislation moving through the Texas legislature will put Latino families – including his family – in danger.
“This is an emotional issue. This affects my family and puts so many families like mine at risk. We come to the Texas House as lawmakers to advocate for our communities. To protect our people,” Walle said in a statement.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
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