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U.S. Department of Justice sues Texas over state’s immigration enforcement bill

 Migrants in Eagle Pass, Texas walk near concertina wire erected by state officers participating in Operation Lone Star.
The Associated Press
Migrants in Eagle Pass, Texas walk near concertina wire erected by state officers participating in Operation Lone Star.

The U.S. Department of Justice made good on its promise to sue Texas over a state-based immigration bill the legislature passed in November.

Senate Bill 4 makes unauthorized entry a misdemeanor for a first offense, and penalties increase to a felony for subsequent violations. The bill also permits a local judge or magistrate to order a person back to Mexico, regardless of their nationality.

The law is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution as it challenges the federal government’s sole authority over immigration laws, the DOJ said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

“The Constitution assigns the federal government the authority to regulate immigration and manage our international borders,” the statement reads. “Because SB 4 is preempted by federal law and violates the U.S. Constitution, the Justice Department seeks a declaration that SB 4 is invalid and an order preliminarily and permanently enjoining the state from enforcing the law.”

The lawsuit was expected after the department said last week that Gov. Greg Abbott and the state of Texas had until Wednesday to announce it would not enforce the legislation, which is scheduled to take effect in early May. It names Abbott and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw as defendants.

Abbott and the Republican authors of the bill have said they think the law is legal, adding it was necessary to implement because of President Biden’s “open-border” policies that have led to a record number of unauthorized crossings under his watch. But Abbott also said he is open to a lengthy court battle that could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuit by the federal government is the second to challenge the legislation. Last month the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit in Austin on behalf of El Paso County, El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and American Gateways, which has offices in Austin, San Antonio and Waco. That lawsuit also alleges the bill is unconstitutional.

Should the litigation reach the high court, it’s expected to reignite debate on a ruling made in 2012 in an Arizona case that upheld the federal government’s authority on immigration issues. Although the conservative court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1970s decision that granted a person’s right to have an abortion, legal experts say immigration is a separate issue.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a post on social media that his office was prepared to fight both lawsuits in court and reiterated that he thinks Texas has a right to take matters into its own hands.

“Just as I am prepared to fight the lawsuit brought by the extremist ACLU and the nonprofits enriching themselves due to the federal government’s open borders doctrine, I am prepared to fight the Biden Administration whose immigration disaster is leading our country to ruin,” he posted. “Texas has the sovereign right to protect our state.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom