State Capitol
The Oklahoma State Capitol AFP

The U.S. Department of Justice sued Oklahoma on Tuesday over a law seeking to impose criminal penalties on people living in the state unlawfully.

Concretely, the lawsuit challenges the recently-passed law that makes it a state crime to live in Oklahoma without legal immigration status. The bill makes this a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The DOJ said Oklahoma is violating the U.S. Constitution and is asking the court to prevent the state from enforcing the law. "Oklahoma cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent," said in a statement U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division.

"We have brought this action to ensure that Oklahoma adheres to the Constitution and the framework adopted by Congress for regulation of immigration."

Oklahoma is among the several Republican-led states which have recently passed immigration enforcement laws. Officials have claimed that the federal government is not doing enough to stem the flow of migrants reaching the country and they are taking matters into their own hands.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said the bill was necessary as a result of this. "Not only that, but they stand in the way of states trying to protect their citizens," Stitt said in a statement. State officials said that even though the federal government has broad authority over immigration, it doesn't have "exclusive power."

State Attorney General Gentner Drummond said the DOJ's argument is "dubious at best" and that Oklahoma is "exercising its concurrent and complementary power as a sovereign state to address an ongoing public crisis within its borders through appropriate legislation."

"Put more bluntly, Oklahoma is cleaning up the Biden Administration's mess through entirely legal means in its own backyard – and will resolutely continue to do so by supplementing federal prohibitions with robust state penalties."

States like Texas, Georgia and Louisiana have signed similar laws like Oklahoma's HB 4156. Their goal is to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants in their state amid the ongoing unprecedented influx of migrants through the southern border.

Texas' SB4 is the most notable of them all, allowing state police to arrest and deport unauthorized immigrants in the territory. Its implementation is currently halted by a Court of Appeals.

Other states, like Missouri and Kansas are in the process of also introducing similar laws. Iowa has already signed a similar bill into law, with the DOJ also challenging it in the courts.

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