State Capitol
The Oklahoma State Capitol AFP

A federal judge has temporarily halted an Oklahoma law that contemplates prison sentences for those found living in the state without legal immigration status, preventing it from going into effect next Monday.

Concretely, U.S. District Judge Bernard M. Jones issued a preliminary injunction at the request of the Department of Justice. The measure will stay paralyzed while a suit by the DOJ continues before the courts.

The law is one of many implemented by Republican-led states which seek to crack down on unlawful immigration. This one in particular makes being in the state while undocumented a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. The Department of Justice has challenged them in the courts, including initiatives from Iowa and Texas.

In his ruling, Judge Jones said that while the state "may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration," the "State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law."

That argument has been at the center of all lawsuits involving such measures, as states claim the federal government is not doing enough to stem the flow of illegal immigration and they have to take matters into their own hands.

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.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, on his end, had 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.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond called the ruling disappointing and said he intends to appeal it "and defend one of the most powerful tools we have."

When challenging the law, 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.

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