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Texas governor signs bill allowing police to arrest migrants entering US illegally

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: The Guardian
December 18, 2023 at 20:34
People arrive at the border between Mexico and the US on 13 December. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images
People arrive at the border between Mexico and the US on 13 December. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Law gives police sweeping new powers as well as empowering local judges to order migrants’ expulsion

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, on Monday signed a bill giving all police in the state sweeping new powers to arrest migrants deemed to have entered the US illegally as well as empowering local judges to order their expulsion back across the US-Mexico border.

The hard-right Republican’s actions represent a brazen challenge to the federal government’s authority over the enforcement of US immigration law.

The law passed the Republican-dominated Texas legislature last month, over the angry objections of Democratic lawmakers.

Legal experts have previously said the legislation defies US law – and Abbott can almost certainly expect a court challenge from the federal authorities. The law is due to take effect next March.

Mexico’s government had also criticized the measure when it was being debated in the Texas legislature, warning it would result in family separations and racial profiling.

Texas arresting migrants is not new. Within six months of Joe Biden taking office as a Democrat in the White House in 2021, Texas state troopers began making agreements with private landowners whose properties abut the border with Mexico and arresting migrants who crossed their properties – not for alleged immigration offenses covered by federal law, but for trespassing, in an audacious workaround.

Abbott has also make a political splash by busing thousands of migrants to Democratic-run cities across America without coordinating with them, and stringing razor wire and giant buoys along the Rio Grande, where the river marks the border.

But the new law is designed to empower all police in Texas to arrest migrants suspected of illegally crossing into the US. Under Abbott’s plan, the alleged offense would be classed as a misdemeanor and a local judge could order the defendant to leave the country.

Critics say that apart from racial profiling, the law could prompt the wrongful arrest of US citizens and immigrants who are in the country legally. Democrats have also said it would make immigrant crime victims afraid to contact police.

They have also called the measure the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since a 2010 Arizona law – denounced by critics as the “Show Me Your Papers” bill – that was largely struck down by the US supreme court.

The new law signed by Abbott allows any Texas law enforcement officer to arrest people who are suspected of entering the country illegally. Once in custody, they could either then agree to a Texas judge’s order to leave the US or be prosecuted on misdemeanor charges of illegal entry. Migrants who don’t comply could face arrest again under more serious felony charges.

The measure is arguably a violation of the federal government’s purview over immigration enforcement. Some immigrant rights groups have lashed out at Biden for not stopping Texas’ aggressive border measures sooner.

Thirty former US immigration judges, who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed a letter this month condemning the measure as unconstitutional.

“This is sanctioned racial profiling and all Texans must stand up and demand this measure, that will no doubt cause massive family separations, be struck down,” said Priscilla Olivarez, an attorney and strategist for the San Antonio-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

During debate in the Texas house, Republican state representative David Spiller pushed back against concerns that the law would be used as a dragnet to arrest immigrants statewide. He said enforcement would mostly take place in border counties and rebuffed efforts by Democrats to narrow the law, including a proposed carve-out for police on college campuses.

“This is not, ‘Round up everyone who is here illegally and ship them back to Mexico,’” he said.

Under bilateral and international agreements, Mexico is required to accept deportations of its own citizens, but not those of other countries. Under the Texas law, migrants ordered to leave would be sent to ports of entry along the border with Mexico, even if they are not Mexican citizens.

“The Mexican government categorically rejects any measure that would allow local or state authorities to detain or deport Mexicans or other nationalities to Mexican soil,” Mexico’s foreign relations department wrote in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

 

 

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