Rio Grande buoys

Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 15, 2023

(Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

Justice Department Threatens to Sue Texas Over Anti-Migrant Law

"I'm relieved to see the DOJ heed our calls to act," said Rep. Joaquin Castro. "This law is unconstitutional, racist, and dangerous."

The Biden administration on Thursday warned it will sue Texas unless Republican Gov. Greg Abbott backs down on enforcing an anti-migrant law the U.S. Justice Department says is unconstitutional.

Earlier this month, Abbott signed a pair of bills: S.B. 3, which allocates over $1.5 billion for "border security" measures including barriers meant to stop migrants from crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas, and S.B. 4, which empowers local and state authorities to arrest and expel undocumented immigrants.

"Congress has established a comprehensive scheme governing entry and removal of noncitizens," U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton said in the letter to Abbott. "S.B. 4 effectively creates a separate state immigration scheme by imposing criminal penalties for violations of federal provisions on lawful entry and reentry into the United States... and therefore intrudes into a field that is occupied by the federal government and preempted."

The Department of Justice (DOJ) gave Texas until January 3 to announce it won't enforce S.B. 4. If the state does not comply, the agency said it will "pursue all appropriate legal remedies to ensure that Texas does not interfere with the functions of the federal government."

Abbott blasted the DOJ letter in a social media post contending that "the Biden administration not only refuses to enforce current U.S. immigration laws, they now want to stop Texas from enforcing laws against illegal immigration."

"Biden is destroying America," the governor claimed.

But migrant advocates welcomed the move, with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) warning that "if S.B. 4 goes into effect, Latino families across Texas will be harassed and hurt for looking like immigrants."

"I'm relieved to see the DOJ heed our calls to act," the congressman added. "This law is unconstitutional, racist, and dangerous."

Another House Democrat from Texas, Rep. Greg Casar, said in a statement that "asking local police to hunt down Texans who look like immigrants doesn't make us safer: In fact, it takes police away from investigating real crime."

"The federal government must block this unconstitutional anti-immigrant policy before it takes effect," he added.

As The New York Timesreported:

The legal threat came a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top American officials met with Mexico's president, Manuel López Obrador, to discuss ways to slow illegal crossings, which have overwhelmed U.S. border towns...

The DOJ's threat is one of several challenges to the Texas law. This month, El Paso County and two immigrant rights groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project, filed a lawsuit in an effort to halt the measure, echoing the Justice Department's argument that immigration laws could be enforced only by federal agents.

For months, advocacy groups have implored the Biden administration to "take decisive action to condemn" and "cease involvement" in Operation Lone Star, Abbott's deadly anti-migrant campaign.

Earlier this month, a federal appellate panel ordered Texas to remove the Rio Grande buoy barrier placed in the river to block people from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

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