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El Paso County, legal groups sue Texas over law making illegal entry a state crime

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(The Center Square) – Within less than 24 hours of Gov. Greg Abbott signing a bill into law making illegal entry into Texas from a foreign country a state crime, El Paso County and several legal groups sued, arguing the law is unconstitutional.

The Democratic-run county in west Texas sued after its leaders have repeatedly issued states of emergencies and disaster declarations in response to surges of illegal border crossers primarily over the past 18 months. Abbott surged resources to the area a year ago and more recently sent more Department of Public Safety troopers and Texas National Guard soldiers there to patrol the area and erected more concertina wire and other barriers.

After more than 1,300 people illegally entered into El Paso over the weekend, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it was temporarily suspending operations at one of El Paso’s international railway crossing bridges, as well as in other parts of Texas, Arizona and California.

Despite the ongoing border surge and local, state and federal resources being overwhelmed, the county and two groups that provide legal aid for illegal foreign nationals sued: Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and American Gateways.

Las Americas, a nonprofit legal services organization headquartered in El Paso, provides pro bono representation to non-U.S. citizens in West Texas, southern New Mexico and Cuidad Jaurez, Mexico. American Gateways, with offices in Austin, San Antonio and Waco, provides low- and no-cost legal services to noncitizens.

The groups are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Immigrant’s Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project and the El Paso County Attorney’s Office.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Austin Division. It names Director of Texas Department of Public Safety Steve McCraw and District Attorney Bill Hicks in the 34th District as defendants.

S.B. 4’s goal is to “stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas,” Abbott said when signing the bill Monday, by creating a state criminal offense for illegal entry into Texas from a foreign nation. Repeat offenders who illegally reenter Texas can face a prison sentence of up to 20 years, according to the new law.

In response, Anand Balakrishnan, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said, “Governor Abbott’s efforts to circumvent the federal immigration system and deny people the right to due process is not only unconstitutional, but also dangerously prone to error, and will disproportionately harm Black and Brown people regardless of their immigration status.”

The 20-page complaint argues that the law created Texas’ “own immigration entry and re-entry crimes; state police arrest noncitizens for alleged violations of these crimes; state prosecutors bring charges in state courts; state judges order deportation; and state officers carry out those orders. The federal government has no role in, and no control over, Texas’s scheme.”

It also argues that SB 4 violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, noting that “Immigration is a quintessentially federal authority. Congress has created a carefully calibrated immigration system, with detailed procedures that determine whether a person may remain in the United States, when criminal entry and re-entry charges may be deployed in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and what protections people receive to ensure that they are not removed to a place where they face persecution.”

Adriana Piñon, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said, “We’re suing to block one of the most extreme anti-immigrant bills in the country” that “overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans.”

The American Civil Liberties Unions of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas and San Diego and Imperial Counties also issued travel advisories to illegal foreign nationals and U.S. citizens about how to deal with law enforcement in Texas.

The advisories provide guidance to individuals if they are stopped by law enforcement in Texas and are asked about their immigration status. They also explain their civil and constitutional rights.

The law is slated to go into effect in March. Abbott has said he plans to defend Texas sovereignty all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When signing SB 4 into law on Monday, he said, President Joe Biden’s “deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” pointing to Article 1 Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which empowers states “to take action to defend themselves and that is exactly what Texas is doing.”

This lawsuit, and others filed over Texas’ concertina and marine barriers, are expected to be decided by the nation’s highest court.

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