Justice Department Sues Texas Over Law That Would Let Police Arrest Migrants Who Enter U.S. Illegally

AUSTIN, Texas (News21USA) — The Justice Department sued Texas on Wednesday over a new law that would allow police to arrest immigrants entering the United States illegally, bringing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott back to court over his escalating response to those who cross the border from Mexico.

The lawsuit brings Texas into another showdown over immigration at a time when New York and Chicago are turning away buses and planes carrying immigrants sent by Abbott to Democratic-led cities across the country. Texas is also fighting separate court battles to maintain barbed wire on the border and a floating barrier on the Rio Grande.

But a law Abbott signed last month poses a growing challenge to the U.S. government’s authority over immigration. In addition to allowing police anywhere in Texas to arrest immigrants accused of illegal entry, local judges could also order immigrants to leave the country.

The law will go into effect in March.

The lawsuit was filed in Austin. Civil rights organizations and officials in El Paso County, Texas, filed a lawsuit last month that similarly described the new law as an unconstitutional overreach.

FILE - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021. (News21USA Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021. (News21USA Photo/Eric Gay, File)

The Justice Department sent Abbott a letter last week threatening legal action unless Texas changed course. In response, Abbott posted on

On Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson and about 60 fellow Republicans visited the Texas border town of Eagle Pass, which has been the center of Abbott’s $10 billion border initiative known as Operation Lonely Star. Johnson suggested he could use the government’s looming funding deadline as additional leverage for hardline border policies.

President Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to make political concessions because the number of migrants crossing the border is a growing challenge to his 2024 re-election campaign. Johnson praised Abbott, who was not in Eagle Pass, and criticized the lawsuits seeking to undo aggressive Texas border measures.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” Johnson said.

Illegal crossings along the southern border of the United States exceeded 10,000 on several days in December, a number that US Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Troy Miller called “unprecedented.” U.S. authorities closed freight rail crossings at Eagle Pass and El Paso for five days last month, calling it a response to the large number of migrants traveling on freight trains through Mexico to the border.

This week authorities also resumed all operations at a bridge in Eagle Pass and other crossings in San Diego and Arizona that had been temporarily closed.

Legal experts and opponents say the new Texas law is the most far-reaching attempt by a state to control immigration since a 2010 Arizona law that was partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under Texas law, immigrants could accept a Texas judge’s order to leave the United States or be prosecuted for misdemeanor illegal entry charges. Immigrants who do not leave could face arrest again on charges of more serious crimes.

Those ordered to leave would be sent to ports of entry along the border with Mexico, even if they are not Mexican citizens. The law can be enforced anywhere in Texas, but some places are prohibited, including schools and churches.

For more than two years, Texas has conducted a smaller-scale operation at the border to arrest immigrants accused of misdemeanor criminal trespassing. Although this was also intended to curb illegal crossings, there is little indication that it did so.

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