Abbott signed legislation allowing Texas to arrest immigrants, setting up a federal standoff

Gov. Greg Abbott intensified his challenge to President Biden’s border policies on Monday, signing a measure that allows Texas law enforcement officials to arrest immigrants who enter the state from Mexico without legal authorization.

Mr. Abbott insisted. specification.

Some border sheriffs also opposed the law, worried that if even a fraction of those crossing the border each day were arrested, it could quickly overwhelm local jails and courthouses. Federal agents along a stretch of the 1,254-mile Texas border with Mexico, around the towns of Eagle Pass and Del Rio, 38,000 migrants were met in October.

The surge in immigrants has become a political liability for President Biden, who has been criticized by Republicans and some Democrats for the record number of arrivals at the southern border under his watch.

In signing the law, third-term Republican Mr. Abbott made his direct move in challenging the Biden administration over federal immigration policy, which is currently being negotiated between the president and Congress.

“Biden’s deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” Mr. Abbott said during an event to sign a bill on the border wall in Brownsville, Texas.

The Texas law takes effect in March and is likely to wind its way through the courts in subsequent months, as presidential and congressional campaigns intensify. Legal experts said the legislation could create an opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the 2012 case Arizona v. United States, which narrowly ruled in favor of the federal government’s authority to set immigration policy.

In the last two years, Mr. Abbott has steadily expanded a multibillion-dollar program of statewide border enforcement known as Operation Lone Star, deploying thousands of National Guard troops and state police to patrol the border indefinitely.

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State police have arrested thousands of immigrants on trespassing charges under the program. But those arrests can only be made on private land and with the consent of the landowner. And this effort did not deter illegal crossings, which continued at high levels.

The new law makes it a misdemeanor to enter Texas from Mexico anywhere other than through legal ports of entry. It would also allow immigrants to be ordered to return to Mexico during the court process or prosecuted if they do not agree to go. A second violation is a felony.

On Monday, federal immigration officials International rail bridges were closed In Eagle Pass and El Paso, border agents may be redeployed to handle large numbers of immigrants.

Crossing between ports of entry is already a crime under federal law. But federal agents often don’t prosecute immigrants until their second offense, admitting many first-time crossers, especially women and children, into the country.

As a result, Mr. Abbott and other Texas Republicans have argued that the federal law is not being enforced as well as they believe. The state’s new law does not allow immigrants seeking asylum to avoid arrest or prosecution unless their asylum claim has already been granted, a process that can take years.

Mr. Trump has drawn attention to the border uprising, including installing razor wire across the Rio Grande and transporting tens of thousands of immigrants from Texas border towns to Democratic-run cities like New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago. Abbott has taken other steps as well. .

Opponents have vowed to file lawsuits to block the law from taking effect.

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“Our view is that Texas does not have the authority to police and prosecute immigration crimes,” said David Donati, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “We’ll go to federal court so they can’t do that.”

The governor signed into law Monday about $1.5 billion in additional funding for construction of the state’s border barrier.

Lawmakers did not provide funding for additional arrests or prosecutions of immigrants or to assess related costs. To process violators arrested under Operation Lone Star, Texas has already created special processing areas and reserved space in state prisons to serve as jails for immigrants detained on trespass charges.

Ryan Urrutia, patrol commander for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, said the sheriff did not support the law because he feared it would instill distrust in law enforcement in the largely Hispanic community. Mr. Urrutia’s office estimates that could add about $6 million in annual costs to El Paso County, though he cautioned, “nobody knows.”

Local or state police officers — sheriffs, Texas Rangers or city police officers — can be arrested under the law for up to two years after the alleged crime. It raises the question of how police officers far from the border can determine whether someone has crossed illegally without asking for immigration documents, a tactic critics fear could lead to racial profiling.

Rep. David Spiller, a Texas Republican who sponsored the bill in the state House, said the new law would not lead to those types of investigations. “I think most of the enforcement will be at the border, where officers see people coming in,” Mr. Spiller said. In an interview on the “Y’All-itics” podcast. He added that he believes the law “does not contradict” the 2012 Supreme Court case.

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But before the bill passed with majority Republican support, one Republican senator warned that the law would, in fact, conflict with the Constitution, which he said gave the federal government authority over immigration enforcement.

“We are setting a terrible precedent by invalidating our obedience and loyalty to our Constitution,” said Senator Brian Birdwell, a conservative Republican from south of Dallas. In a speech on the floor of the state Senate. “President Biden’s failure to obey his oath does not compel us to break ours.”

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