Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott Photo by: Reuters/Go Nakamura

Two civil rights organizations filed on Tuesday a lawsuit challenging the new Texas law allowing state authorities to arrest and deport migrants who cross the border illegally.

Concretely, the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Texas Civil Rights Project claim the the law, which was passed yesterday and is set to go into effect in March, is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law. The filing was done on behalf of El Paso County and two immigrant aid groups.

"The bill overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans, in particular Brown and Black communities," Adriana Piñon, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement reported by The Associated Press.

It was widely expected that the move by Governor Greg Abbott would set up a potential legal clash with the federal government, which generally sets and enforces immigration laws.

Abbott, speaking at a live-streamed signing ceremony in Brownsville on the US-Mexico border, accused President Joe Biden of doing "nothing to halt illegal immigration."

The Texas governor claimed that some eight million people have crossed the border illegally since Biden, a Democrat, took office in January 2021. He defended the new law as constitutional, saying Texas had been left to "fend for itself."

At the US-Mexico Border
Members of the Texas Army National Guard extend razor wire to inhibit migrants from crossing, as seen from Ciudad Juárez. Reuters

Abbott said the bill makes it a "criminal offense for illegal entry into Texas from a foreign nation." For repeated offenders it creates the offense of illegal reentry with a potential prison sentence term of up to 20 years," he said.

The bill also "provides a mechanism to order an illegal immigrant to return to the foreign nation from which they entered, according to Abbott.

SB 4's crimes can be enforced anywhere in the sprawling Lone Star State, where one in five residents is foreign-born, including months or years after a person arrives. Unlike other anti-immigrant laws in Texas and elsewhere, SB 4 does not prohibit racial profiling in enforcement. It also does not exempt people seeking asylum.

The law is the latest flashpoint between the Republican governor and the federal authorities. The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of a floating barrier installed by Texas authorities in the Rio Grande River to stop migrants crossing from Mexico.

Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has made immigration a centerpiece of his White House campaign and criticized Biden's policies during a recent visit to the US-Mexico border.

Trump and Abbott, who has endorsed the former Republican president's White House bid, blame Biden for the current migrant crisis, as thousands of people flow into the country daily from Latin American countries beset by crime, poverty and violence.

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