DOJ to sue Texas over border bill that makes illegal entry a state crime

When signing SB 4 into law, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said President Joe Biden's "deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself."

Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law on Dec. 18, saying its goal is to "stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas." (Shutterstock)

(The Center Square) — The U.S. Department of Justice says it will sue Texas over a new law that makes illegal entry into Texas from a foreign country between ports of entry a state crime.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law on Dec. 18, saying its goal is to “stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas.” It creates a new state criminal offense for illegal entry into Texas from a foreign nation. Repeat offenders who illegally reenter Texas can face a prison sentence of up to 20 years, according to the new law.

Although the law is slated to go into effect March 5, it will likely be halted, held up by two lawsuits.

Within less than 24 hours of Abbott signing the bill into law, El Paso County and several groups sued. Their lawsuit argues SB 4 created Texas’ “own immigration entry and re-entry crimes; state police arrest noncitizens for alleged violations of these crimes; state prosecutors bring charges in state courts; state judges order deportation; and state officers carry out those orders. The federal government has no role in, and no control over, Texas’s scheme.”

One of their attorneys said, “Governor Abbott’s efforts to circumvent the federal immigration system and deny people the right to due process is not only unconstitutional, but also dangerously prone to error, and will disproportionately harm Black and Brown people regardless of their immigration status.”

The U.S. Justice Department agrees.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton on Thursday sent a letter to Abbott that states SB 4 is unconstitutional and will disrupt federal government operations. CBS News published the letter, which constitutes notice that the DOJ intends to bring a lawsuit to enforce the supremacy of federal law and enjoin the enforcement of SB 4.

Texas has until Jan. 3 “confirm” that SB 4 will not be enforced. If it doesn’t, he said, the DOJ “will pursue all appropriate legal remedies to ensure that Texas does not interfere with the functions of the federal government.”

In response to the letter, Abbott posted a statement on social media, stating, “The Biden Administration not only refuses to enforce current U.S. immigration laws, they now want to stop Texas from enforcing laws against illegal immigration. I’ve never seen such hostility to the rule of law in America. Biden is destroying America. Texas is trying to save it.”

Abbott has said he intends to take all legal challenges on Texas border bills to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Boynton says the Texas law preempts and violates the U.S. Constitution and conflicts with various provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It also “improperly regulates the movement of persons across an international boundary and undermines the United States’ foreign relations.”

It notes that the U.S. Constitution “tasks the federal government with regulating immigration and controlling the international borders.”

When signing SB 4 into law, Abbott said President Joe Biden’s “deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” pointing to Article 1 Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which empowers states “to take action to defend themselves and that is exactly what Texas is doing.”

Lawsuits filed over SB 4 and others currently before the Fifth Circuit over Texas’ concertina and marine barriers are expected to be decided by the nation’s highest court.

The Texas legislature has allocated more than $11.5 billion in taxpayer money toward state border security efforts. Texas’ actions were implemented as more than 1.9 million foreign nationals illegally crossed into the state from Jan. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2023, The Center Square first reported.

Thousands continue to pour in a day, with roughly 50 Texas counties declaring an invasion and more than 60 issuing disaster declarations, citing the border crisis.


Bethany Blankley
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