Gov. Abbott signs border bill making it a state crime to enter Texas illegally

Dec 18, 2023, 3:23 PM | Updated: Jan 15, 2024, 2:27 pm

A US Border Patrol agent speaks with immigrants waiting to be processed after crossing from Mexico ...

A US Border Patrol agent speaks with immigrants waiting to be processed after crossing from Mexico into the United States on December 17, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

(John Moore/Getty Images)

Originally Published: 18 DEC 23 16:52 ET
Updated: 18 DEC 23 17:15 ET

(CNN) — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed into law Monday a bill that makes entering Texas illegally a state crime, an extraordinary step in the hard-fought legal battle between the state and the federal government over efforts to curtail illegal immigration.

The measure, SB 4, grants local law enforcement the power to arrest migrants and judges the ability to issue orders to remove them to Mexico. It has sent ripples of fear throughout the Latino community in Texas, which makes up 40% of the state’s population, and was condemned by civil rights organizations and immigration advocacy groups after the Texas legislature passed it last month.

The law is expected to take effect in March.

The ongoing surge of migration at the US-Mexico border has placed immense pressure on local and federal resources. Abbott and the Biden administration have sparred over some of the state’s measures to curb illegal immigration along the southern border. On Sunday, US Customs and Border Protection announced it would temporarily suspend operations at the international railway crossing bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, starting Monday, due to a surge in border crossings by migrants. Border authorities apprehended about 192,000 migrants between ports of entry in November, a 2% increase compared with the 188,000 migrant apprehensions in October, US Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens told CNN.

Democratic House members have said the bill oversteps the federal government’s powers and echoes Arizona’s immigration status provision in what opponents have dubbed the “show me your papers” law. The law was mostly rejected by the US Supreme Court in 2012 when it upheld that the federal government sets immigration policy and laws.

The Republican author of the Texas bill has maintained that the measure is constitutional.

Kevin F. Lawrence, the executive director of Texas Municipal Police Association, told CNN in a statement that “SB 4, at least to some measure, would give local law enforcement better tools to work with.”

The ACLU has threatened to sue Abbott over the measure that the organization has dubbed one of the most anti-immigrant bills passed by any state.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in response to Abbott signing the bill that the state threatens the “safety and dignity of asylum seekers.”

“By criminalizing the very act of seeking refuge, Texas is turning its back on the values of compassion and due process that make our nation the world’s beacon of humanitarian leadership,” Vignarajah said in a statement Monday.

Three top county executives in Texas penned a letter to President Joe Biden late last month, urging him to stop SB 4 from going into effect, citing concerns the measure is unconstitutional and could make communities less safe. The county executives lead El Paso, Harris (home to Houston) and Travis (home to Austin) counties, which represent nearly a quarter of the state’s population.

“We urge you to intervene to stop this legislation from going into effect and to prevent Texas Governor Greg Abbott from violating the U.S. Constitution,” they wrote in the letter, which was posted on X.

This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.

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Gov. Abbott signs border bill making it a state crime to enter Texas illegally