Justice Department Says It Will Sue Texas If Gov. Abbott Doesn’t “Refrain” from Enforcing New Immigration Law

The Justice Department claims that, by delegating immigration powers to state-level law enforcement, Texas is infringing upon the federal authority.

The U.S. Department of Justice has threatened to file a lawsuit against Texas if it enforces a recently-passed law that would let state police arrest people accused of illegally crossing the border.

“Texas recently enacted Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), which will become effective on March 5, 2024. The law purports to create new state crimes tied to federal prohibitions on unlawful entry and reentry by noncitizens into the United States, and it would authorizer state judges to order the removal of certain noncitizens from the country,” the Justice Department wrote in a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.  “Accordingly, the United States intends to file suit to enjoin the enforcement of SB 4 unless Texans agrees to refrain from enforcing the law.”

As LegalReader.com has reported before, the Biden administration has broadly asserted that it retains an exclusive, constitutionally-mandated right to regulate immigration and control international borders.

By drafting, passing, and enacting legislation that delegates immigration-enforcement powers to state-level officials, the Justice Department suggests, Texas has abrogated its constitutional obligations and infringed upon the federal government’s authority.

Pictured: A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle along the the US-Mexico border. Image via Pixnio/Public Domain.

“SB 4 effectively creates a separate state immigration scheme by imposing criminal penalties for violations of [federal law],” the complaint alleges. “SB 4 therefore intrudes into a field that is occupied by the federal government and is preempted.”

The Department of Justice also indicated that it would initiate legal action if Texas does formally agree to “refrain” from enforcement of the law.

“If you have not confirmed by January 3, 2024, that Texas will forbear enforcement of SB 4, the United States will pursue all appropriate legal remedies to ensure that Texas does not interfere with the functions of the federal government,” the letter states.

A spokesperson for Abbott has, not surprisingly, cast the administration’s defense of federal prerogative as an assault on the Lone Star State’s sovereignty.

“Texas 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,” said Renae Eze, the governor’s director of communications. “President Biden’s deliberate and dangerous inaction at our southern border has left Texas to fend for itself.”

“Gov. Abbott,” Eze added, “signed Senate Bill 4 into law last week to help stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas as the President refuses to enforce federal immigration laws.”

The Houston Chronicle notes that, in its letter to Texas, the Justice Department referenced a 2012 Supreme Court decision, which found that only the federal government has a right to set and enforce immigration policy.

“Indeed, the Supreme Court has confirmed that ‘the removal process’ must be ‘entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government’ because a ‘decision on removability’ touches on ‘foreign relations and must be made with one voice,’” the letter says.

Texas Democrats have already praised the Justice Department’s initiative, with some opining that SB 4 paves the way for overtly discriminatory policies.

“Asking local police to hunt down Texans who look like immigrants doesn’t make us safer: in fact, it takes police away from investigating real crime,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Casar (D-Austin). “The federal government must block this unconstitutional anti-immigrant policy before it takes effect.”


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