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Biden administration sues Texas over controversial immigration law

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Dec. 18 signed a series of border security laws at the Rio Grande Valley, including Senate Bill 4, which the Justice Department asked a judge to enjoin on Wednesday, stating it is unconstitutional. Photo courtesy Office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott/Facebook
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Dec. 18 signed a series of border security laws at the Rio Grande Valley, including Senate Bill 4, which the Justice Department asked a judge to enjoin on Wednesday, stating it is unconstitutional. Photo courtesy Office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott/Facebook

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors asked a judge on Wednesday to quash a controversial Texas law that makes it a crime for non-citizens to illegally cross the southern border into the United States, stating it supplants federal law and is unconstitutional.

The Justice Department filed its complaint in a Texas court, suing the state over Senate Bill 4, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month along with two other bills aimed at deterring irregular immigration.

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The law, which becomes effective March 5, creates new state crimes and penalties for non-citizens who enter Texas via the southern border and permits state courts to order their removal in lieu of prosecution or following successful prosecution on allegations of violating the new crimes.

The federal prosecutors argue in their filing that S.B. 4 is an unconstitutional attempt to usurp the federal government's responsibility over immigration operations.

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They argue that immigration is "the exclusive authority of the federal government," as is the removal of non-citizens. The law will also interfere in a variety of arenas that are the federal government's responsibility -- from national security to foreign relations, the prosecutors said.

The complaint states the law impedes the government's ability to enforce and assess a migrant's national security and public safety risks as well as federal immigration proceedings. It creates foreign relations issues with Mexico -- which has voiced opposition to the law -- as it directs non-citizens to be removed to the United States' southern neighbor, regardless of their nation of origin.

"Mexico has already expressed its opposition to S.B. 4, nothing that S.B. 4 would interfere with Mexico's sovereign right to determine who enters its territory," the federal prosecutors said.

"The implementation of S.B. 4 would undermine U.S. efforts to convince governments worldwide to implement or strengthen their international protection systems and uphold their respective non-refoulement obligations."

The prosecutors further allege that by empowering state officials to arrest and undertake removal proceedings, the law risks the unnecessary harassment of non-citizens.

"S.B. 4 is clearly unconstitutional," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. "Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and longstanding Supreme Court precedent, states cannot adopt immigration laws that interfere with the framework enacted by Congress. The Justice Department will continue to fulfill its responsibility to uphold the Constitution and enforce federal law."

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Abbott, a Republican, signed the bills amid a surge in migrant encounters by border patrol agents and his feud with the Biden administration as he has blamed its polices for the influx that has followed the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abbott has taken up several controversial methods to try and deter migration into his state, from busing and flying thousands of non-citizens to Democrat-led cities to erecting a floating barrier in the Rio Grande River, which he was ordered by a court to remove early last month.

S.B. 4 is also facing a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed its complaint on the heels of Abbott signing it into law.

The Abbott government has vowed to fight all complaints filed against it.

"S.B. 4 was created to address the endless stream of illegal immigration facilitated by the Biden administration," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement defending the law.

"Just as I am prepared to fight the lawsuit brought by the extremist ACLU and the nonprofits enriching themselves due to the federal government's open borders doctrine, I am prepared to fight the Biden Administration whose immigration disaster is leading our country to ruin."

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"Texas has the sovereign right to protect our state."

Illegal immigration has plagued the Biden administration especially in recent months amid a surge in asylum seekers reaching the border, and it has taken a slew of measures to address the issue.

Agents have said they are seeing a recent drop in encounters, that permitted them to re-open for processing four border crossings that were closed last month to deal with the influx.

Biden officials said the drop is due to increased enforcement from Mexico, which followed their meeting last week with the country's president.

"Biden sued me today because I signed a law making it illegal for an illegal immigrant to enter or attempt to enter Texas directly from a foreign nation," Abbott said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"I like my chances. Texas is the only government in America trying to stop illegal immigration."

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