Federal judge hears arguments on Texas bill making illegal border crossing a state crime

The Justice Department was in a federal court in Austin Thursday hoping to persuade a federal judge to block a new state law that goes into effect next month.

Senate Bill 4 will give police power to arrest people suspected of crossing the Texas-Mexico border illegally.

An arrest that would come with six months in jail if convicted, and a trip back to the border.

The federal government says the Texas law interferes with federal law and is unconstitutional, but Texas Governor Greg Abbott and attorneys fighting for Texas disagree.

Groups opposing SB4 were on Facebook Live outside the federal courthouse in Austin where, inside, the Justice Department and lawyers for Texas argued before federal Judge David Ezra

The state law makes it a criminal offense, a misdemeanor, with up to six months in jail to cross the border illegally into Texas.

If a person is convicted, judges would have to order their return to Mexico, and local law enforcement would be responsible for transporting migrants to a border crossing.

The Biden Administration says the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government, not the states, authority to make immigration law.

"Article 1 says Congress can do these things, it has a list, and so the federal government’s position in this and all the other cases is this is one of the things. You get one country, you get one immigration policy," constitutional law attorney David Coale said.

Coale explained Texas’ position on SB 4.

"[Texas is] not trying to write new laws, we're saying that state people, state enforcement officers, can enforce basically the exact same thing, just under state law. We're trying to help you," he said.


Texas lawmakers pass controversial bill making illegal border crossing a state crime

The controversial Senate Bill 4 was passed by legislators on Tuesday night. The bill creates a new state crime for illegally entering or re-enteing into Texas from a foreign country.

It's help the federal government doesn't want from Texas, and why the argument is before a federal judge in Austin to ask for an injunction to keep the law from going into effect.

"If SB4 becomes an active policy of this state, it will signal to dozens of other governors from other states to do the same," said Aron Thorn, with Texas Civil Rights Project.

While this constitutional confrontation is around immigration, the answer could bring other questions at every point where federal and state law intersect.

MORE: Border Security News Coverage

"If the federal government has exclusive power, that's one thing, if states can go their own way, so long as they are helping out, that affects just about everything where there's interplay between the federal and the state government," Coale explained.

The hearing lasted about three hours. The judge did not rule from the bench Thursday, but will likely rule very soon.

SB 4, unless the judge issues an injunction, becomes the law of the land on March 5.