The Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has approved a new bill granting law enforcement officials extensive powers to arrest migrants who enter the U.S. illegally. The law also grants local judges the authority to issue orders demanding that the arrested migrants leave the country. This legislation asserts the power a state can wield in enforcing immigration laws and is likely to face legal challenges due to immigration enforcement being a federal responsibility.

This law is scheduled to take effect in March. Any Texas law enforcement officer now has the power to apprehend individuals suspected of entering the country illegally. Once in custody, they will either have to accept a Texas judge’s order to leave the U.S. or face prosecution on misdemeanor charges of illegal entry. Those who refuse to leave may face arrest again under more serious felony charges.

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Governor Abbott signed the bill at a border fence in Brownsville and claimed that it could reduce the number of illegal crossings into Texas by “well over 50%, maybe 75%”.

This law further intensifies tensions between the White House and Senate negotiators trying to reach an agreement on border security. Texas Republicans have questioned the U.S. government’s authority over immigration and criticized President Joe Biden’s handling of the situation, saying that he is not doing enough to control the 1,950-mile southern border. In recent months, they have taken their own initiatives such as busing more than 65,000 migrants to cities across the United States since August 2022, and recently installing razor wire along the banks of the Rio Grande.

After the bill’s signing, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said they would challenge the law in court, and over 20 congressional Democrats also signed a letter urging the U.S. Justice Department to sue to stop the law, known as Senate Bill 4.

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