Greg Abbot Signs several laws
Greg Abbot signs several laws in Brownsville

The Republican governor of Texas Greg Abbott signed a bill on Monday that allows state police to arrest migrants who cross illegally into the United States from Mexico and local judges authority to deport them from the country.

The new law, known as Senate Bill 4 (or SB4) not only authorizes police to detain people they suspect crossed the Rio Grande between ports of entry, but also arrest undocumented immigrants anywhere in the state.

The bill also makes it a crime to reenter or be "at any time found" in Texas after having previously been removed from the country under SB 4 or by federal authorities.

The move by Abbott sets 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."

"Joe Biden's deliberate inaction has decimated America," Abbott said.

The Texas governor 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 said the bill passed by the Republican-majority Texas state legislature last month was needed to "stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas."

The session, held in November, was deemed "dysfunctional" by observers but Abbott says the initiative is needed to stop what he sees as "an invasion" of Texas orchestrated by criminal organizations.

Abbott said the bill makes it a "criminal offense for illegal entry into Texas from a foreign nation.

"For repeat 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," he said.

The law, which is expected to be challenged in court by the Biden administration and civil liberties groups, is to go into force in March and 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.

Migrants walk between concertina wire and a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande river with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas
Migrants walk between concertina wire and a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande river with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas

Billions for border barriers

During his trip to Brownsville, along the Rio Grande Valley, Abbott also signed into law two additional bills that pour more money into his three-year effort to deter illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border.

Senate Bill 3 earmarks $1.54 billion in state money to continue construction of barriers along the 1,200-mile border, and allows the state to spend up to $40 million for state troopers to patrol Colony Ridge, a housing development near Houston that far-right publications claim is a magnet for undocumented immigrants.

The money would be added to at least $1.5 billion in contracts the state has issued since September 2021 to build about 40 miles of border barrier. As of August, Texas had erected 16 miles of steel bollard barriers in Starr, Cameron, Val Verde and Webb counties.

-With information from AFP, AP and The Texas Tribune

© 2024 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.