As Texas Border Arrests Law Teeters in Court, other GOP States also Push Tougher Immigration Policy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican lawmakers across the country were already jockeying to push their states deeper into immigration enforcement when the Supreme Court, if only briefly, let Texas enforce a new law giving police broad powers to arrest migrants suspected of crossing the border illegally.

Within hours Tuesday, another court blocked the Texas law again. The same day, Iowa passed a similar bill.

In New Hampshire, lawmakers are nearing passage of legislation to let police bring trespassing charges against people suspected of illegally entering the U.S. from Canada.

And in Georgia, Republicans have advanced a proposal requiring eligible cities and counties to seek agreements to perform some immigration-related enforcement in jails to help the federal government after police accused a Venezuelan man of beating nursing student Laken Riley to death on the University of Georgia campus. Immigration authorities say the man unlawfully crossed into the U.S. in 2022. It is unclear whether he had applied for asylum.

On Wednesday, the state Senate honored Riley’s family. During the ceremony, her father, Jason Riley, blamed immigrant-protecting sanctuary policies in Athens, where University of Georgia is located, for his daughter’s death and urged Gov. Brian Kemp to declare an “invasion,” the same argument Texas has used to defend a series of escalating measures along the border. Last month, a federal judge in Texas rejected those claims while blocking the state’s new arrest law.

“A man with an evil heart stole her life. He was in this country and in this state illegally,” Jason Riley said. “I’m begging every senator in this chamber that you protect citizens from this illegal invasion.”

Meanwhile, it’s yet to be seen whether a number of other Republican-led states, many of which are pushing different bills and sending their National Guard members to the border, will embrace the Texas-style bill, particularly if another court ruling favors the state.

The Biden administration is suing to block the Texas measure, arguing it’s a clear violation of federal authority that would cause chaos in immigration law and wreak havoc on international relations.

Tennessee lawmakers are approaching the finish line on a proposal to require law enforcement agencies there to communicate with federal immigration authorities if they discover people are in the country illegally. But for the brief time Texas had the all-clear to enforce its law Tuesday, the Tennessee House and Senate speakers expressed openness to considering a similar policy.

“We are monitoring the Texas situation as Gov. Abbott works to protect his state,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton said. “I support his efforts to preserve their sovereignty and their border.”

Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, said these kinds of immigration policies are typically driven by political motivation and come with serious complications for resource-strapped law enforcement agencies that are generally untrained in immigration enforcement.

Jason Riley, father of slain nursing student Laken Riley, speaks at the Senate at the Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

“The Supreme Court may finally rule on this issue, and it’s anyone’s guess as to which way they rule, but I think until they rule on the merits, states will probably keep their powder dry,” Chishti said.

Under Iowa’s bill, entering the state after previously being denied entry to the U.S. would become an aggravated misdemeanor, or a felony under some circumstances, such as when arrested while committing a different felony.

“The federal government has abdicated its responsibilities and states can and must act,” Republican Rep. Steven Holt said.

Democratic Rep. Sami Scheetz argued that immigration was constitutionally reserved for the federal government.

“Illegal immigration is a serious problem that requires action, yet the approach laid out in this bill misses the heart of what it truly means to address this issue with compassion, wisdom and effectiveness,” Scheetz said.

If signed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, the law will take effect July 1.

New Hampshire’s border bill dealing with Canada, meanwhile, would follow only 21 apprehensions in the state between October 2022 and December 2023, even as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforcement area that includes New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Maine has seen a dramatic increase in illegal border activity since 2021.

The Republican-led New Hampshire Senate passed the trespassing bill last month. Republicans have a slimmer House majority, but the bill’s sponsor, Senate President Jeb Bradley, expects it to pass.

Even though the Texas law is again on hold, the former U.S. representative said he thinks courts are moving toward giving states more authority, boding well for legislation like his.

“The magnitude of the problem has gotten significantly worse,” Bradley said Wednesday. “We can’t wait for Congress.”

Some Democratic-led states are pursuing expansions of immigrant rights, including Maryland, where lawmakers are closing in on a bill to seek a federal waiver to let people buy health insurance through the state’s health care exchange, regardless of immigration status. But a proposal to make Minnesota a “sanctuary state” appeared dead on arrival and served to stir up backlash from Republicans.

The Texas law is considered by opponents to be the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since an Arizona law more than a decade ago, key portions of which were struck down by the Supreme Court. That law would have allowed police to arrest people for federal immigration violations, often referred to by opponents as the “show me your papers” bill.

Among the various legislation proposed in GOP-led states, Georgia has an additional bill that would punish cities and counties that Republicans say are using so-called sanctuary policies to illegally harbor immigrants who are in the country without permission by cutting off most state aid to the local government and removing elected officials from office.

Oklahoma is proposing a ban on using state money on benefits for those living in the state illegally, Louisiana is advancing a ban on “sanctuary cities” and Florida has already passed legislation to increase sentences for immigrants in the country illegally if they are convicted of driving without a license or committing felonies.

In Tennessee, a bill that would require authorities in the state to share information about someone’s immigration status with federal counterparts is a Senate floor vote away from final passage. Another in committee would would allow judges to sentence someone in the country illegally to life without the possibility of parole for a violent crime involving a deadly weapon or on school property. A third, also in committee, would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly or recklessly transport someone who is in the country illegally into the state.

Immigrants were holding an advocacy day Tuesday at Tennessee’s Capitol when the Supreme Court temporary ruling came down, shocking the group. Lisa Sherman Luna, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, said the Texas law sets a “horrifying precedent” for communities and the country.

“How ‘united’ will our states be when they each have different laws on who can call them home?” Luna said.


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