Posted on December 19, 2023

Texas Immigration Law Known as SB4, Allowing State to Arrest Migrants, Signed by Gov. Greg Abbott

Camilo Montoya-Galvez, CBS, December 19, 2023

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Monday signed one of the harshest state immigration laws in modern U.S. history, authorizing state officials to arrest and seek the deportation of migrants suspected of crossing the border with Mexico illegally.

The law, known as SB4, gives Texas law enforcement authorities the power to stop, arrest and jail migrants on new, state-level illegal entry charges. It also allows state judges to issue de facto deportation orders against suspected violators of the law, though it’s unclear how this provision could be enforced.


Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University professor and immigration expert, called SB4 “unprecedented.” He said the Texas law is more sweeping in nature than SB 1070, a controversial Arizona law in 2010 that penalized unauthorized immigrants in different ways, including by empowering state police to stop those believed to be in the country unlawfully. The Supreme Court partially struck down that Arizona law in 2012, concluding that states could not undermine federal immigration law.

“It’s by far the most anti-immigrant bill that I have seen,” Yale-Loehr said of SB4.


Crossing into the U.S. outside of an official port of entry is already a federal crime, though most migrants’ violations are treated as civil cases in the immigration court system. SB4 would make illegal immigration a state crime, ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony.

While Texas troopers have already been arresting some migrant adults on state trespassing charges, that effort has required the consent of private property owners. The new law would not.

Under SB4, crossing into Texas illegally from Mexico would be treated as a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Illegal reentry into Texas would be a felony offense, punishable with up to 2, 10 or 20 years in jail, depending on whether the migrant in question had been previously deported or convicted of certain crimes.

SB4 includes a provision that bars state officials from arresting migrants in certain locations, including schools, places of worship and health care facilities.

The law would also allow Texas magistrates to order migrants suspected of committing the new illegal entry or reentry crimes to return to Mexico as an alternative to continuing their prosecution. Those found to violate those orders could be charged with a second-degree felony.