Texas has passed a stringent immigration law, criminalizing border crossings and imposing jail time, marking one of the toughest measures adopted by a US state in recent history. Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, claims the law aims to halt the surge of illegal entries into Texas.
Critics, including immigration advocates, argue that the law may lead to racial profiling. The controversy arises as US courts have historically affirmed that only the federal government can enforce immigration laws. While crossing the border unlawfully is already a federal offense, violations are typically handled as civil cases by the immigration court system.
Scheduled to take effect in March, SB4 permits local and state police to apprehend anyone suspected of illegal border crossing, excluding schools and hospitals. Penalties range from misdemeanors to felonies, carrying potential jail time or fines reaching $2,000 (£1,580). Judges may also order the return of those arrested to Mexico, although the execution of this provision remains unclear.
Penalties for illegal re-entry could result in up to 20 years in jail, contingent on a migrant’s immigration and criminal history. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick praised the law as a crucial step in bolstering border security, asserting it to be the most robust border security bill in Texas history.
However, SB4 is expected to face legal challenges from immigration advocates and has garnered criticism from Democratic lawmakers and the Mexican government. Sarah Mehta of the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concerns about potential racial profiling and the unlawful detention of both US citizens and immigrants.
White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández emphasized that determining the removal of noncitizens for violating immigration laws falls under the federal government’s jurisdiction, not individual states.
Border and immigration issues have become a political challenge for President Biden, with a record 2.4 million migrant encounters recorded at the border during the 2022 fiscal year. Republican lawmakers have sought to leverage US military aid to Ukraine to secure policies addressing illegal immigration.