On Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill granting broad new powers to all police in the state to arrest migrants believed to have entered the US unlawfully, while also giving local judges the authority to order their expulsion across the US-Mexico border. This move by the hard-right Republican challenges the federal government’s jurisdiction over the enforcement of US immigration law.
The legislation, which passed the Republican-dominated Texas legislature last month amid strong objections from Democratic lawmakers, is expected to face legal challenges as legal experts have noted its potential conflict with US law.
Scheduled to take effect in March of the coming year, the law empowers all Texas police to arrest migrants suspected of illegally crossing into the US. Under Governor Abbott’s plan, this alleged offense would be treated as a misdemeanor, and a local judge could issue an order for the defendant to leave the country.
Critics argue that, besides potential racial profiling, the law may lead to the wrongful arrest of US citizens and legally present immigrants, while also discouraging immigrant crime victims from contacting the police.
Governor Abbott has previously taken controversial measures on immigration, such as arranging for the transportation of thousands of migrants to Democratic-run cities across the US without coordination and fortifying the Rio Grande with razor wire and large buoys.
The new law is seen as one of the most significant attempts by a state to police immigration since the 2010 Arizona law, commonly known as the “Show Me Your Papers” bill, which was largely struck down by the US Supreme Court.
This legislation allows any Texas law enforcement officer to arrest individuals suspected of entering the country illegally. Once in custody, these individuals could comply with a Texas judge’s order to leave the US or face misdemeanor charges of illegal entry. Failure to comply could result in arrest under more serious felony charges.
Critics argue that this measure encroaches on the federal government’s authority over immigration enforcement. Some immigrant rights groups have criticized the Biden administration for not intervening earlier to halt Texas’ aggressive border measures.
Thirty former US immigration judges, serving under both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed a letter condemning the measure as unconstitutional. Concerns have been raised about the potential for racial profiling and significant family separations. Mexico’s government had previously criticized the legislation, expressing concerns about family separations and racial profiling.
The Mexican foreign relations department issued a statement categorically rejecting any measures allowing local or state authorities to detain or deport individuals to Mexican soil.