Greg Abbott signs Texas bill letting police arrest migrants who cross the border illegally

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed legislation that makes it a criminal offense to enter the state illegally, setting up a potential clash with President Joe Biden’s administration over immigration policy and border enforcement.

Abbott, a Republican who has implemented other policies directed at migrants that have drawn court challenges, signed the bill at an event in Brownsville, Texas.

“Biden’s deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” Abbott said, adding that the bill’s goal was to “stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas.”

Crossing into the United States between designated ports of entry is already a crime under federal law.

Abbott’s signature comes after the Republican-controlled state Legislature voted last month to approve the measure and as negotiators in Washington try to hammer out an immigration deal that Republicans are insisting on in exchange for additional aid to Ukraine and Israel — a high priority for the White House.

The new law also comes amid record crossings of the southern border. Two Department of Homeland Security officials said U.S. border agents apprehended over 12,000 migrants attempting to cross on Monday, a new record, with nearly 11,000 of them trying to cross illegally between ports of entry. The previous record of just under 12,000 was set two weeks. The busiest sectors continue to be Tucson, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas.

In recent years, local authorities in Texas have been arresting migrants on state misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing under Abbott’s border enforcement program known as Operation Lone Star.

The law signed Monday makes it a misdemeanor to enter or attempt to enter Texas from a foreign country at any location other than a lawful port of entry. It is scheduled to go into effect in March.

A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night on whether the DOJ planned to sue Texas over the new law.

White House spokesperson Angelo Fernandez Hernandez called the measure “an extreme law that will make communities in Texas less safe,” adding that the federal government, rather than states, “is charged with determining how and when to remove noncitizens for violating immigration laws.”

Immigrants from Venezuela cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Immigrants from Venezuela cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Sept. 30, 2023. John Moore / Getty Images file

A group of 21 Texas Democrats and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus signed a letter Monday asking the Justice Department to step in and block the new law, which it described as “the most extreme anti-immigrant state bill.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block enactment of the law.

The law is the Texas governor’s latest attempt to deter migrant crossings through state actions. Abbott previously ordered the installation of a 1,000-foot floating barrier near Eagle Pass, Texas, and for the placement of razor wire near the Rio Grande to stop migrants from entering the state after crossing the river from Mexico.

Both of those efforts were rejected in court, with a federal appeals court ruling this month that the state must remove the buoy barrier and a federal court rejecting Abbott’s request last month to stop federal authorities from removing the razor wire.

Abbott’s office has also bused thousands of migrants out of Texas since last year to cities like Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles.