El Paso County and two immigrant rights organizations sued Texas on Dec. 19 over a controversial law that gives Texas the authority to arrest and deport migrants who enter the state illegally.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the new law, known as Senate Bill 4, a day earlier. The law is scheduled to take effect in March and will allow law enforcement and judges to order migrants to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. Currently, only the federal government can deport migrants.

The lawsuit argues SB 4 is unconstitutional because it violates the federal government’s immigration authority.

What you need to know

SB 4 will allow state and local police for the first time to arrest immigrants who are in Texas illegally. Judges could choose to prosecute undocumented immigrants or order them to leave the country.

The law makes it a state misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a $2,000 fine, to illegally enter Texas from a foreign nation. Penalties would increase for repeat offenders.

Migrants cannot be arrested at schools, places of religious worship or medical facilities, the bill states.

Filed in the Western District of Texas, the lawsuit names Col. Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, as a defendant. DPS troopers stationed near the Texas-Mexico border and across Texas could arrest migrants under SB 4.

Abbott said Dec. 18 he believes Texas has the authority to create and enforce its own immigration laws, citing a “border crisis.” He also said the new law was crafted to avoid delays in court.

“We think that Texas already has a constitutional authority to do this, but we also welcome a Supreme Court decision that would overturn the precedent set” in Arizona v. United States, Abbott said.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arizona immigration law that would have made it a state crime to be in the country illegally.

What they’re saying

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Adriana Piñon, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said SB 4 was “one of the most extreme anti-immigrant bills in the country.”

“The bill overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans, in particular Brown and Black communities,” Piñon said.

Abbott said “officers understand [that] it is wrong to profile.” He said the law gives police “the tools they need to actually take action against those who are coming across the border illegally,” but does not allow them to target people based on race.

Breaking down the costs

According to the lawsuit, police in El Paso County will likely arrest and jail around 8,000 more people each year under SB 4. Officials in the border county estimate they would have to spend nearly $24 million annually to house undocumented immigrants and an additional $162 million to expand jail capacity.

“El Paso County relies on public trust to enforce laws and to support the most vulnerable residents of the County,” the court filing reads. “SB 4 directly frustrates the County’s efforts to provide these legal services by diluting the trust the El Paso County community has in its local government, making it less likely that community members cooperate with local law enforcement.”

Community Impact previously reported that the new law would cost Travis County at least $9 million per year.

Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights groups have also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to “use every resource at their disposal” to stop SB 4 from becoming law in March.

What else?

Abbott also signed two other bills into law on Dec. 18. One new law, which goes into effect in February, increases criminal penalties for smuggling humans and harboring undocumented immigrants in “stash houses.”

The other law sets aside $1.54 billion to help Texas continue to build a wall along the Texas-Mexico border. It is scheduled to take effect in March.

Lawmakers have said the state could build around 100 miles of border wall with the new funding. So far, over 16 miles of wall have been built and 33 miles are in the works, Abbott said.

“Walls alone will not solve this disastrous border crisis that the Biden administration has created,” Mike Banks, Texas’ special advisor on border matters, said Dec. 18. “What will is consequences for violating laws, combined with the probability of arrest and prosecution for coming into this country illegally.”