The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken legal action against the state of Texas, challenging a new law that empowers state officials to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court by the ACLU, El Paso County, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, argues that the law is discriminatory and disproportionately targets minority communities.
The controversial legislation, known as SB 4, is seen by its supporters as a necessary measure to secure the border amid an increase in illegal crossings, particularly in light of what they perceive as the Biden administration’s failure to adequately secure the border with Mexico. The law, sent first to Texas Governor Greg Abbott by Texas Republicans in November, authorizes local police to enforce immigration laws by making it a state misdemeanor to cross the Texas-Mexico border illegally.
Adriana Piñon, the legal director of the ACLU of Texas, voiced her concerns over the law, stating, “The bill [SB 4] overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans, in particular Brown and Black communities.” Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has pledged to fight for the law’s enforcement, even if that means taking the battle all the way to the Supreme Court. He justified the law, arguing that in the absence of sufficient federal action, Texas has the constitutional authority to secure its borders through landmark laws like SB 4.
Echoing Abbott’s sentiments, Texas House Republican David Spiller expressed his belief in the right of states to enforce their borders. The law not only allows Texas to deport those who cross into the state back to Mexico but also challenges the Biden administration’s current catch-and-release policy.
According to Abbott’s office, the law creates a criminal offense for illegal entry from a foreign nation, with repeated attempts being punished with up to 20 years in prison. It further provides a mechanism to order an offender to return to their country of origin. Officials, employees, and contractors of local and state governments are also granted civil immunity and indemnification from lawsuits resulting from the enforcement of these provisions.
The law has been met with criticism both domestically and internationally. The Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the Biden administration have voiced their disapproval, with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stating that the law was “not who we are as a country.” The issue of illegal immigration has been a point of contention between Abbott and Biden, with the Justice Department under Biden having previously sued Texas over water barriers erected on the Rio Grande to deter illegal immigration.