Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a measure Monday that gives law enforcement officials the power to arrest immigrants entering the state illegally from Mexico. The bill, known as S.B. 4, also gives Texas courts the power to issue orders to immigrants suspected to have entered the state illegally to return to the country through which they entered.
“These laws will help stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas,” Abbott said in a statement.
Abbott has taken increasingly strict measures to stop illegal immigration into Texas, including placing razor wire at certain locations and installing a chain of orange buoys in the Rio Grande. Both efforts set up legal battles with the Biden administration.
“President Biden’s deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” Abbott said in his statement Monday.
There were more than 2 million illegal crossings at the southwest border with Mexico for each of the past two fiscal years ending Sept. 30, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The law is expected to go into force in March.
Entering the United States, other than through an approved crossing, is already illegal under federal law and is policed by federal authorities. The new legislation criminalizes entry under state law and could be subject to legal challenges relating to who has jurisdiction over border enforcement.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Texas said last month, when the legislation first passed in a special session of the state legislature, that it would sue if Abbott signed the bill into law. Oni K. Blair, executive director at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement that the legislation “overrides federal immigration law, fuels racial profiling and harassment, and gives state officials the unconstitutional ability to deport people without due process.”
The package of bills Abbott signed Monday also includes a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for people-smuggling and a mandatory five-year minimum sentence for “operation of a stash house” where immigrants are sheltered while being moved. It allocates $1.54 billion to border security operations and barrier infrastructure.
It also creates the offense of “illegal reentry,” which penalizes those found guilty of entering Texas from a foreign nation more than once.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down elements of an Arizona law that gave state officials certain powers to enforce immigration policies, ruling on the side of immigration as a federal responsibility; but a legal challenge to Texas’s legislation would face a more conservative bench.