New Texas law to allow police to arrest migrants entering the US illegally

Republicans challenge US government authority over immigration, saying Biden administration is not doing enough to safeguard the southern border

A US Border Patrol agent speaks with migrants at a transit centre near the Mexican border in Eagle Pass, Texas. Getty Images / AFP
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Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott has approved sweeping new powers that allow police to arrest migrants who illegally cross the US border and give local judges authority to order them to leave the country, testing the limits of how far a state can go to enforce immigration laws.

Opponents have called the measure the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since a 2010 Arizona law – denounced by critics as the “Show Me Your Papers” bill – that was largely struck down by the US Supreme Court.

Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility and Texas’s law is also likely to face swift legal challenges.

The law, which takes effect in March, allows any Texas law enforcement officer to arrest people who are suspected of entering the country illegally.

Once in custody, they could either agree to a Texas judge’s order to leave the US or be prosecuted on misdemeanour charges of illegal entry. Migrants who do not leave could face arrest again under more serious felony charges.

Mr Abbott, who signed the law in front of a section of border fence in Brownsville, predicted the number of people crossing illegally into Texas would drop by “well over 50 per cent, maybe 75 per cent”. He did not offer evidence for that estimate.

The law adds another tension point over immigration amid a struggle between the White House and Senate negotiators to reach a deal on border security.

Migrants on the southern US border – in pictures

Texas Republicans have increasingly challenged the US government’s authority over immigration, saying President Joe Biden's administration is not doing enough to control the southern border.

The state has bused more than 65,000 migrants to cities across America since August 2022 and recently installed razor wire along the banks of the Rio Grande.

Authorities are seeing unprecedented arrivals at the border, topping 10,000 crossings on some days this month.

Shortly after Mr Abbott signed the new law, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said it would challenge the measure in court. More than 20 congressional Democrats also signed a letter urging the Justice Department to sue to stop the law.

Mexico’s government has also rebuked the measure. Under bilateral and international agreements, Mexico is required to accept deportations of its own citizens, but not those of other countries.

In September and October, Venezuelans were the largest nationality arrested for illegally crossing the US border.

Because the illegal entry charge is a misdemeanour, which has a statue of limitation of two years, Republican state representative David Spiller has said the law will not be used against immigrants who have long been settled in the US.

Thousands of migrants seeking entry to US surrender to border patrol – video

Thousands of migrants seeking entry to US surrender to border patrol

Migrant people wait to be processed by the Border Patrol of El Paso Sector, Texas, after crossing from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on May 11, 2023.  A surge of migrants is expected at the US-Mexico border cities as President Biden administration is officially ending its use of Title 42.  On May 11, President Joe Biden's administration will lift Title 42, the strict protocol implemented by previous president Donald Trump to deny entry to migrants and expel asylum seekers based on the Covid pandemic emergency.  (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ  /  AFP)
Updated: December 19, 2023, 7:48 PM