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Biden Administration Will Sue Texas If Anti-Immigrant Law Takes Effect

“SB 4 is unconstitutional,” Attorney General Brian Boynton said in a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Migrants cross the Rio Grande river near the buoy barriers on September 11, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

The Justice Department notified Texas on Thursday that it would sue if the state implements SB4, a bill that authorizes local and state law enforcement to arrest undocumented migrants at the border and allows Texas judges to issue deportation orders.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB4 into law in December and Texas officials are expected to begin enforcement of the law in March.

“This is an extreme law that will make communities in Texas less safe,” White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said when asked about the law. “Generally speaking, the federal government — not individual states — is charged with determining how and when to remove noncitizens for violating immigration laws.”

SB4 represents one of the most restrictive anti-immigrant laws passed in recent history, classifying unauthorized entry into Texas from Mexico as a misdemeanor and deeming reentry into the state a felony.

“Because SB 4 is unconstitutional and will disrupt the federal government’s operations, we request that Texas forbear in its enforcement,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton said in a letter to Abbott that was obtained by CBS News.

In the letter, Boynton warns Abbott that the Justice Department will file a lawsuit if Texas does not guarantee by January 3 that the state will hold back from enforcing the law as planned in March. Boynton contends that Texas, through the adoption of SB4, is seeking to criminalize actions already prohibited at the federal level, endanger relations between the U.S. and Mexico, and jeopardize federal asylum seeker laws.

“SB 4 is preempted and violates the United States Constitution. Accordingly, the United States intends to file suit to enjoin the enforcement of SB 4 unless Texas agrees to refrain from enforcing the law,” Boynton said in the letter.

Abbott’s spokesperson affirmed that Texas will legally defend SB4, even if it means taking the case to the Supreme Court.

SB4 has been condemned by civil liberties and migrant advocacy groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). In November, LULAC urged the Justice Department to intervene and seek a court injunction enjoining Texas from implementing the law.

“LULAC opposes this out-of-control Governor and Republicans in the legislature on a hateful rampage toward asylum seekers and refugees,” Domingo Garcia, LULAC National President, said in a statement. “Their actions violate federal sovereignty over immigration laws.”

In December, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Texas, and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) filed a legal challenge to SB4, asserting that the law is unconstitutional.

“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,” Anand Balakrishnan, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “We’re using every tool at our disposal, including litigation, to stop this egregious law from going into effect.”

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