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Inspired by Texas, Republicans in Other States Eye Immigration Bills

A migrant camp next to a barrier of concertina wire at the U.S. southern border, near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 19, 2024. (Paul Ratje/The New York Times)
A migrant camp next to a barrier of concertina wire at the U.S. southern border, near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 19, 2024. (Paul Ratje/The New York Times)

On Tuesday, the same day that Texas was briefly allowed to enforce a new law empowering police officers to arrest migrants in the country without legal permission, Iowa lawmakers passed a bill that would make it a crime to enter their state after having been deported or denied entry into the United States.

At least seven states, all controlled by Republicans, are hoping to follow suit or have already considered bills that were not passed.

The flurry of laws and proposals meant to crack down on migrants entering the country illegally is part of the extraordinary mix of immigration, litigation and politics that is producing legal gridlock in the courts and confusion at the border.

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The fate of all of these bills, though, will most likely hinge on the outcome of the Texas case, according to legal analysts and groups involved in migration issues. If the Texas law is upheld, then observers expect even more bills from Republican-leaning states modeled after what Texas did.

Kansas and Oklahoma are among the states that this year have introduced legislation related to illegal entry into the United States, echoing the law in Texas.

Louisiana became the most recent on Monday. And Missouri has two bills, including one sponsored by state Sen. Bill Eigel, who is one of the leading candidates for governor this year.

Describing the surge at the border as an “invasion,” Eigel, who represents a St. Louis suburb, blamed “the failures of our federal government led by President Joe Biden to deal with that” during a committee hearing last week.

It is too early to tell whether any of these bills will advance as far as Iowa’s did. Bills in West Virginia and Mississippi have already failed. And a similar bill passed by Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature was vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.

But none of the other states eyeing immigration laws similar to Texas’ have Democratic governors.

Still, supporters and opponents of the Texas law said they would not be surprised if lawmakers in other states tried to introduce similar measures as most legislative sessions begin to wind down in the next couple of months.

“The bigger picture is, given the scope of illegal immigration and the impact that it’s having on states and local communities, we’re likely to see more efforts on the parts of these jurisdictions to try to discourage people from settling there illegally,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports reducing both legal and illegal immigration.

Spencer Amdur, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said advocates for immigrants were mulling legal challenges to the Iowa legislation, which Gov. Kim Reynolds has pledged to sign.

Among other objections, Amdur argued that the regulation of entry and removal was exclusively federal. He also said the U.S. Supreme Court has held that states cannot unilaterally enforce immigration rules.

“We think the Iowa law is illegal for the same reasons we think the Texas law is illegal,” he said.

Amdur did note that while most of the bills, to date, have featured similar language, Oklahoma’s was slightly different, in part because of one phrase: “unlawfully present.”

Under the Oklahoma proposal, anyone who was arrested and accused of a crime and then determined to be “unlawfully present” in the country would be guilty of a felony punishable by at least 10 years in prison.

Jacob Hamburger, a visiting assistant professor of law at Cornell, said the proposed laws run the risk of leading to racial profiling. He also said that if the courts uphold the Texas law — basically, that “Texas can have its own deportation policy” — then states led by Democratic governors that have sought to strengthen immigrant protections may be emboldened to push for looser work authorization laws and other policies.

But for now, he said, “aspects of Texas’ overall strategy — like this public campaign to bus migrants to cities — might have weakened Democrats’ commitment to immigrants.”

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