Anticipation and anger on Texas border after Supreme Court lets strict immigration law take effect

McALLEN, Texas — A Supreme Court decision allowing Texas to arrest and deport migrants — at least for now — on charges of illegally entering the country could have a dramatic impact on the U.S.-Mexico border, but its immediate impact has been limited.

Sheriffs and police chiefs who will implement the law have been largely circumspect about when, where and how migrants can be arrested. Before a divided court allowed the state law to take effect Tuesday while a legal challenge was underway, some sheriffs were willing to enjoy an unprecedented state expansion of border enforcement, while others were reluctant.

Texas remained silent in the hours after the ruling on whether and when state troopers or Texas National Guard soldiers — who have the most interaction with migrants — would begin enforcement.

Mexico’s foreign minister said in a strongly worded statement that it would refuse to take back anyone ordered to leave the country under state law and that it “categorically rejects” any state or local government that enforces immigration laws.

“Mexico reiterates its legitimate right to protect the rights of its nationals in the United States and to determine its own policies regarding access to its territory,” the government said.

Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe, who has largely embraced Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s multibillion-dollar border enforcement efforts, said he was “prepared to continue prosecuting” but that agents have “probable cause” needed to make arrests. His province covers a border area near Del Rio that was recently the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings but has now become considerably quieter.

“It is unlikely that observers will see a change overnight,” Coe said.

Judge Ricardo Samaniego, El Paso County’s top executive, said immigration enforcement should remain a federal responsibility, not a state one, echoing the Biden administration’s position. He said the increased law enforcement presence in the city of El Paso during an earlier wave of migrants led to high-speed chases and traffic stops based on the presumption that passengers were in the country illegally.

“We had accidents, we had injuries, we got a glimpse of what would happen if the state started to control what happens with regard to immigration,” Samaniego said.

The impact extends far beyond the Texas border. Republican lawmakers have written the law to apply in all of the state’s 254 counties, although Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, has said he expects the law will be mostly enforced near the border.

Other GOP states far from the border are already looking to follow Texas’ path. In Iowa, the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday gave final approval to a bill that would also give law enforcement authorities the power to arrest people who are in the U.S. illegally and who have previously been denied entry into the country.

It now goes to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. If signed, it would take effect in July.

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

Skylor Hearn, executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, said sheriff’s offices have been training since last year.

“If a county chooses to take it on themselves, they are choosing for their taxpayers to take it on themselves,” Hearn said. “As long as the federal government is willing to do the part that they should be doing, it’s ideal for them to take possession of these people and take them into custody.”

There was no immediate rush at the border and no talk of arrests, but news of the ruling spread quickly and caused alarm among immigrant advocates.

“Terrible, late news, my friends!” Carlos Eduardo Espina said on his TikTok account that he has more than 8 million followers, including many migrants in transit. He said the law would create confusion and promised “know your rights” instructions on how to respond to police questioning.

Daniel Morales, an associate professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center, said the Texas law is “very clearly going to be a mess to enforce.”

“It’s very clear that Greg Abbott wants to enforce the law so that he gets lots of photo opportunities and opportunities, but it’s going to take a lot of state resources to implement that. And I don’t really know how much appetite and capacity the state government actually has for that,” Morales said. Texas will find enforcement “difficult and burdensome,” he said.

Arrests for illegal crossings fell by half in January, compared to a record high of 250,000 in December, with sharp declines in Texas. Arrests in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which Abbott focuses on, are down 76% from December. Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings for much of the past decade, recorded the fewest arrests since June 2020.

Tucson, Arizona, has been the busiest corridor in recent months, followed by San Diego in January, but the reasons for sudden shifts are often complicated and determined by smuggling organizations.

When President Joe Biden visited the Rio Grande Valley last month for his second trip to the border as president, administration officials blamed Mexico’s increased enforcement on that part of the border for the drop in apprehensions. They said conditions were more challenging for Mexican law enforcement in Sonora, the state south of Arizona.


Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, Juan Lozano in Houston and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed.