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Gov. Abbott signs bill that makes unauthorized entry a state crime

 A Texas DPS vehicle sits at the border fence in El Paso on May 11, 2023
Julian Aguilar
The Texas Newsroom
A Texas DPS vehicle sits at the border fence in El Paso on May 11, 2023

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed into law a sweeping and controversial immigration-enforcement bill that creates a new state crime for unauthorized entry from Mexico and allows state authorities to deport migrants.

Abbott signed the legislation in Brownsville, where a portion of a state-built border fence is being built with state dollars.

The legislation, Senate Bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, was one of Abbott’s priorities for lawmakers after similar bills failed to pass during the regular legislative session that ended in May.

Abbott has said state action is justified because of what he calls the Biden administration’s open border policies, which have led to a record number of apprehensions on Texas’ border. He’s added that fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid commonly smuggled across the border, has already killed thousands of Texans.

“Joe Biden’s deliberate inaction has decimated America. Two years ago there was an all-time record number of illegal immigrants apprehended,” Abbott said at the bill signing, referring to apprehension figures under former President Trump.

The legislation has been assailed by critics as a blatantly unconstitutional policy that grants law enforcement de facto permission to target minority communities regardless of their status.

“Racial profiling is a pervasive problem that extends beyond the borders of any particular region in this country. People of color are daily singled out and targeted due to their skin color, accent, or religious affiliation,” Marisa Limón Garza, the executive director of El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said in a statement. “Let’s be clear: SB 4 is discriminatory and unconstitutional and must not take effect.”

It is likely to be challenged in court as the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the League of United Latin American Citizens have promised legal action to stop the bill from being enacted.

Attorney David Donatti is with the ACLU of Texas. He said that unlike gun control or abortion, immigration enforcement is an issue that states don’t have power over because it usually involves cooperation with foreign governments.

“The state of Texas can pass its own laws about marketing tobacco products, for example, about how to regulate Medicaid, about traffic laws,” he said. “Immigration controls, deportation absolutely are outside of that window of what the states are usually free to legislate.”

Abbott said in Brownville Monday that he thinks the law will survive a court challenge, but added he’d welcome taking the matter all the way to the nation’s highest court.

“We think that Texas already had the constitutional authority to do this, but we also welcome a Supreme Court decision,” he said.

The bill signing was strictly ceremonial as the legislation will become law with or without his signature. Should it survive the expected court challenges, it will take effect in early March.

Earlier Monday, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, spearheaded an effort where he and other Democrats asked the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene to stop SB 4 from becoming law.

“SB 4 is dangerous for the people of Texas and interferes with the federal government’s exclusive authority over immigration and foreign affairs,” the lawmakers wrote. “SB 4 also potentially impedes on due process and civil rights everyone in the United States is entitled to, regardless of the color of their skin or suspected immigration status.

Abbott also signed into law Senate Bill 3, which appropriates $1.5 billion for construction of border barriers on the border. The bill passed earlier this last month and adds to the millions the state has already spent on construction of the state’s border wall.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom