Migrants trying to reach the US near Juarez
Migrants trying to reach the United States are seen near the US-Mexico border, in Ciudad Juarez. Reuters

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas on Wednesday, claiming that a new immigration law allowing local officials to arrest and deport migrants who cross the border unlawfully is unconstitutional.

Concretely, the suit claims that the Constitution assigns the federal government, and not the states, with the responsibility to regulate immigration and enforce laws related to its international border.

SB4, as Texas' law is known, makes it a misdemeanor to illegally cross the border and a second-degree felony to do so for a second time. Punishments for this latter case range between 180 days in jail to 20 years in prison. The law also allows judges to order that undocumented people "return to the foreign nation from which they entered."

"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," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.

The DoJ had already warned Texas not to move ahead with the law, saying that it "effectively creates a separate state immigration scheme by imposing criminal penalties for violations of federal provisions on unlawful entry and reentry into the United States." It had given the state until Wednesday to confirm it wouldn't enforce SB4, but the Greg Abbott administration said it would only comply if ordered by a court.

Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott VERONICA CARDENAS/Reuters

Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement last week that the state is "prepared to take this fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect Texans and Americans from President Biden's open border policies."

Texas governor Greg Abbott claimed that some eight million people have crossed the border illegally since Biden, a Democrat, took office in January 2021. Abbott defended the new law as constitutional, saying Texas had been left to "fend for itself." He added that the bill passed by the Republican-majority Texas state legislature was needed to "stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas."

NBC News recalled that the Abbott administration has not been successful at the time of getting its attempts to uphold, considering two recent rulings against them: it was ordered to remove a floating barrier of buoys in a section of the Río Grande and also saw a rejection of its efforts to prevent U.S. Customs and Border Protection from removing razor wire near the border.

The clash comes as the amount of migrants reaching the U.S. southern border keeps on increasing, continuously breaking records. ABC News reported that there were 302,000 encounters along the southwest border in December, marking the highest monthly total ever recorded

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