US Justice Department sues Texas to halt new state law targeting illegal immigration

By Uriel J. García 

The Texas Tribune

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The U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas on Wednesday over a new state law that allows Texas police to arrest migrants suspected of crossing the Texas-Mexico border illegally.

“Texas cannot disregard the United States Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement. “We have brought this action to ensure that Texas adheres to the framework adopted by Congress and the Constitution for regulation of immigration.”    

The lawsuit was filed in an Austin federal court and names Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw. It asks the court to declare the state law unconstitutional and prevent Texas from implementing it.

The law, which is scheduled to take effect March 5, would make it a state crime to cross the Texas-Mexico border between ports of entry.

The new crime is a Class B misdemeanor carrying a punishment of up to six months in jail. Repeat offenders could face a second-degree felony with a punishment of two to 20 years in prison. The law also requires state judges to order migrants returned to Mexico if they are convicted; a judge could drop the charges if a migrant agrees to return to Mexico.

Abbott and McCraw didn’t immediately respond to emails from The Texas Tribune seeking comment.

This is the second legal challenge to Texas’ new immigration law. In December, ​​the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of El Paso County and two immigrant rights organizations — El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and Austin-based American Gateways — asking a federal judge in Austin to prevent Texas from implementing SB 4 and declare it unlawful.

Federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled that immigration laws can only be enforced by the federal government.

In 2010, Arizona lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1070, which made it a state crime for legal immigrants not to carry their immigration papers and required police to investigate the immigration status of any person they come into contact with. In a landmark 2012 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local police didn’t have the authority to arrest someone solely based on their immigration status and said that responsibility falls to the federal government.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.


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