El Paso County Sues Texas to try to Block New Migrant Arrest Law
El Paso County and two immigrant rights groups sued Texas officials on Tuesday to challenge a sweeping new law that allows state and local police to arrest migrants who cross from Mexico, setting up a legal showdown over federal immigration policies.
The federal lawsuit came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill, which he called “so extreme” that he believed it would drive migrants away from Texas. Civil and immigrant rights groups and Democratic officials said the law violated the Constitution and invited racial profiling of Hispanic citizens in Texas.
In the suit, El Paso County and the two nonprofit groups argue that the state law should be struck down in its entirety because the federal government has exclusive authority over immigration matters.The suit, filed in federal court in Austin, names as defendants the Texas Department of Public Safety, whose officers would be newly empowered to make arrests under the law, and the district attorney for El Paso, Bill Hicks, whose office would prosecute the offenses. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the plaintiffs.
The new state law, known as Senate Bill 4 and scheduled to take effect in March, makes it a misdemeanor to cross into Texas from Mexico without using an authorized port of entry. A person arrested under the law could be ordered by a court to return to Mexico or face prosecution if they did not agree to go. A second unauthorized crossing would be a felony.
A claim of asylum would not shield a migrant from arrest or prosecution for illegal entry under the new state law unless asylum had already been granted. But the process of reviewing an asylum claim often takes years.
“It’s likely that it will create a dragnet that ensnares not only undocumented immigrants, but also Americans and legal permanent residents,” said Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of San Antonio, who has asked the Justice Department to intervene to stop the law from taking effect.
According to the lawsuit, the Texas law is an attempt at “grasping control over immigration from the federal government and depriving people subject to that system of all of the federal rights and due process that Congress provided to them.”
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