Texas Governor Signs Bill To Make Unauthorized Immigration A State Crime
This new law, titled Senate Bill 4, will allow Texas authorities to arrest and jail migrants suspected of crossing the Mexican border illegally. It will also permit deportation at the state level, which breaks away from U.S. Supreme Court rulings that make immigration a federal issue.
Outcry to the new law has been swift. Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro and 11 more Texas representatives signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland yesterday, explaining: “This bill is set to be the most extreme anti-immigrant state bill in the United States.”
According to the representatives, Senate Bill 4 “will likely result in racial profiling, significant due process violations, and unlawful arrests of citizens, lawful permanent residents, and others.” Meanwhile, a group of 30 former U.S. immigration judges released a joint statement deeming the new law “unconstitutional.”
“Persons in the United States who entered unlawfully have rights and protections under federal law,” the former judges wrote. “To the extent that the proposed state ‘law’ conflicts with these rights, it is unconstitutional.”
Here is everything to know about Texas’s new law, which criminalizes unauthorized entry at the state level, and allow state authorities to arrest and jail undocumented migrants.
The Texas governor signed three new laws, making unauthorized immigration a state crime
As reported by CBS, Governor Abbott’s new signed law is one of the harshest in U.S. history. While unauthorized entry into the U.S. is already a federal crime, SB4 also makes it a state crime. This means Texas police could arrest people suspected of crossing the border illegally and jail migrants. The law gives state judges the power to deport unauthorized immigrants as well.
Under SB4, state authorities could charge anyone crossing the Mexican border illegally with a Class B misdemeanor. They would also sentence perpetrators with up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Any subsequent unauthorized reentries could lead to a felony charge and two to 20 years in prison. Authorities cannot arrest suspected illegal migrant at places of worship, schools, or healthcare facilities.
The new law also allows judges to give migrants the option to return to Mexico in exchange for dropping charges. However, as per AP News, Mexico’s government is pushing back, as they must only accept deportations of their own citizens. According to the outlet, SB4 states that authorities would send all unauthorized migrants back to ports of entry on Mexico’s border, even if they are originally from other countries.
According to Texas Tribune, Governor Abbott also recently signed two other bills related to the state’s immigration laws. One of them, Senate Bill 3, will use $1.54 billion in state money to continue building a border wall. This would add to the $1.5 billion contracts to fund construction that started in 2021.
Meanwhile, another signed law increases the minimum sentence for “smuggling immigrants,” climbing from a two-year sentence to 10 years.
The Texas governor wrote on X after signing the laws: “I signed three new laws to better protect Texans AND Americans from Biden’s open border policies.”
“Illegal entry into Texas is now a crime subject to removal or imprisonment,” he wrote. “Texas will also fund new wall construction [and] increase human smuggling penalties.”
While signing the laws in Brownsville, Texas, Governor Abbott stated, “The goal of Senate Bill 4 is to stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas.”
He also said that the amount of unauthorized migrants in Texas would decrease by “well over 50%, maybe 75%.”
Now, many Texas politicians continue to denounce the new law: “Will not keep Texans safe”
Amid the new laws, several Texas politicians are speaking out — including Texas Senator Roland Gutierrez. Taking to X to call SB4 “unconstitutional,” he described the law as a “recipe for racial profiling.”
Saying the law “will not fix a broken immigration system, it will not secure the border, and it sure as hell will not keep Texans safe,” Senator Gutierrez said it is “worse than Arizona’s ‘Show Me Your Papers’ bill.”
In fact, several outlets are comparing SB4 to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 in 2010. This law infamously allowed state police to stop suspected unauthorized migrants, and enforced legal immigrants to carry their papers with them at all times. It was largely reversed by the Supreme Court in 2012, reserving immigration laws to the federal government.
However, Governor Abbott hopes his new law could change that 2012 precedent. As per KXAN, he said on Monday that he “welcomes a Supreme Court decision that would overturn the precedent set in the Arizona case.”
“We believe this law has been crafted in a way that can and should be upheld by the courts on its own without having to overturn the Arizona case,” he added. “That said, it does open up the possibility for the Supreme Court to reconsider the Arizona case.”
Meanwhile, Texas Representative Gene Wu suggested on X that the new law is part of a political game. He wrote that it is “more politically profitable to demonize poor migrants seeking refuge” than to “pass meaningful immigration reform”:
Texas Representative Greg Casar also said these are “the worst changes to our immigration system in decades.” He also called it a “really scary time here in Capitol Hill.”
Even more, CBS immigration and politics reporter Camilo Montoya-Galvez shared on X that the White House “denounces” the law. As per his reporting, one White House spokesperson stated: “This is an extreme law that will make communities in Texas less safe.”
“Generally speaking, the federal government — not individual states — is charged with determining how and when to remove noncitizens,” they reportedly added.
While politicians are already uniting to take on the new law, the League of United Latin American Citizens stated that it “denounces in the strongest terms possible the actions in Brownsville today of Governor Greg Abbott and his supporters in the Texas Legislature.”
“These individuals are determined to weaponize their legislative power for political gain at the expense of human beings,” the organization added.
Meanwhile, the ACLU of Texas wrote on X on Sunday, “If SB4 is signed into law, we will sue.”
The new law will go into effect in Texas starting March 2024.