The US Department of Justice has threatened to sue the state of Texas if it implements a law that would allow state police to arrest any person deemed suspicious of crossing the border illegally.
The law, called Senate bill 4, is scheduled to go into effect on 5 March. One of the strictest immigration laws ever passed in American history, SB4 seeks to “prohibit ‘sanctuary city’ policies, that prohibit local law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status and complying with detainer requests”.
The law would include “improper border entry” as a new criminal offense, placing undocumented Texas residents and migrants within the grips of the state’s criminal justice system.
Immigration and border enforcement is a function of the federal government, the department of justice argues: since the US supreme court ruled so in the landmark United States v Arizona case in 2012, immigration policy has long been under the purview of the US federal government – not individual states.
In a letter addressed to the Republican Texas governor, Greg Abbott, the Biden administration has given the Lone Star state a deadline of 3 January to reverse course.
The letter says, in part: “SB 4 is preempted and violates the United States constitution. Accordingly, the United States intends to file suit to enjoin the enforcement of SB 4 unless Texas agrees to refrain from enforcing the law. The United States is committed to both securing the border and ensuring the processing of noncitizens consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). SB 4 is contrary to those goals.”
On X, Abbott wrote: “The Biden Admin. not only refuses to enforce current U.S. immigration laws, they now want to stop Texas from enforcing laws against illegal immigration. I’ve never seen such hostility to the rule of law in America.”
He added: “Biden is destroying America. Texas is trying to save it.”
The move is one of several attempts by Texas at enforcing border security, all a part of Operation Lone Star, a joint operation between the Texas department of public safety and the Texas military department with the mission of countering illegal immigration.
Earlier this year, in July, Abbott and his administration were condemned as inhumane by immigrant and civil rights groups for deploying razor wire and a large floating buoy in the Rio Grande to deter illegal migration – another issue on which the US department of justice pursued legal action against Texas.
In May, shortly after the Biden administration ended the pandemic-era policy Title 42, which had given US officials authority to turn away people who had come to the US-Mexico border claiming asylum in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Abbott deployed a security unit called the Texas tactical border force to the US-Mexico border. The force is equipped with aircrafts, boats, night vision and riot gear.