DOJ sues Texas over new immigration law

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday filed a suit against Texas over the state’s new law that allows for the prosecution and deportation of migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico, setting up for a legal showdown over the powers a state holds on immigration.

The suit, filed in federal court in Austin, Texas, is asking a federal judge to rule the new law, called Senate Bill 4 or S.B. 4, violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and to stop the Lone Star State from enforcing the law.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the legislation in question last month, pointing to the increased number of migrant encounters at the U.S. southern border. The law is slated to take effect March 5 and would allow any Texas law enforcement officer to arrest those suspected of illegal entry into the country. Once arrested, migrants would have to either agree to a judge’s order to leave the U.S. or face misdemeanor charges of illegal entry.

The Justice Department last week threatened to file such a suit, arguing the new law is unconstitutional and disrupts the federal government’s immigration enforcement operations.

“SB 4 is clearly unconstitutional,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said. “Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and longstanding Supreme Court precedent, states cannot adopt immigration laws that interfere with the framework enacted by Congress. The Justice Department will continue to fulfill its responsibility to uphold the Constitution and enforce federal law.”

The DOJ pointed to a 2012 Supreme Court case — Arizona v. United States — where the nation’s highest court ruled that federal immigration laws often trump state law even if there isn’t a direct conflict. 

As a result, the federal government is in charge of regulating immigration and controlling international borders, though Abbott and other state leaders have argued the Biden administration is not doing enough to address the influx of migrants at the border. 

Abbott last week responded to the threat, stating the Biden administration “refuses” to enforce the current immigration laws and “wants to stop” his state from “enforcing laws against illegal immigration.”

Abbott has taken several actions over the past year to curb the effects of migration into his state, including sending buses and flights of migrants to so-called sanctuary cities and authorizing additional border wall construction.

The suit comes just hours after a group of about 60 House Republicans, led by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), traveled to the border near Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday.

The Hill has reached out to Abbott’s office.

Updated 8:39 p.m. Jan. 3.

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