The White House described a new immigration law in Texas allowing law enforcement to arrest illegal immigrants as “extreme” Tuesday, igniting the latest tension between the Biden administration and states at the southern border over its handling of the migrant crisis.

The new legislation, signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Monday, allows law enforcement to arrest illegal immigrants, who would then face the choice to leave the U.S. or be prosecuted on misdemeanor charges for illegal entry. 

Migrants who don’t comply could face arrest again and more serious felony charges.

A White House spokesperson derided the new law as “extreme” and argued it “will make communities in Texas less safe.” 

“Generally speaking, the federal government — not individual states — is charged with determining how and when to remove noncitizens for violating immigration laws,” the spokesperson said. 

“This is certainly extreme as we see it,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized Tuesday. “And it is incredibly unfortunate.”

Abbott NYC

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a panel discussion at the Yale Club in Manhattan Sept. 27, 2023.  (Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Gov. Abbott, however, said the law will “better protect Texans AND Americans from Biden’s open border policies. “

The tension between Texas and the administration was also on display Tuesday when a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the Biden administration from cutting razor wire set up by Texas earlier this year. The state had sued in October and had been rebuffed by a federal judge, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals barred the Biden administration from damaging, destroying, or otherwise interfering with Texas’s [concertina wire] fence in the vicinity of Eagle Pass, Texas” unless it is for a medical emergency.

“[Attorney General Ken] Paxton and I will hold Biden and [DHS Secretary Aleandro] Mayorkas accountable for attacking Texas’ sovereign authority and their attempts to obstruct our border security efforts,” Abbott said in a statement.

That legal battle is taking place alongside another legal battle between the Department of Justice and Texas over its deployment of buoys in the Rio Grande in Texas to stop migrants swimming across.

Texas says the buoys are designed to save lives by preventing people from entering the river, but humanitarian groups and the DOJ argue the barrier poses a safety risk.

“The State of Texas’s actions violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties,” the DOJ said in a letter to Abbott before the suit was filed.

The same federal appeals court recently ruled Texas must remove 1,000 feet of the barrier, prompting Abbott to promise he will go to the Supreme Court if needed to get the barrier reinstalled. The White House has also criticized Abbott for his moves to bus migrants to “sanctuary” cities, including Chicago and New York City. Abbott has in turn accused the Biden administration of not doing its job to secure the southern border.

Katie Hobbs

Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers her state of the state address at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix Jan. 9, 2023.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

On Tuesday, the White House attacked Abbott over what it says are “political stunts” 

“We believe that Gov. Abbott’s policies and political stunts are not safe, not safe for Texas communities and our CBP, our law enforcement on the ground who are trying to do their work. It puts them in harm’s way, and they dehumanize and demonize immigrants. That’s what his political stunts do,” Jean-Pierre said.

But the administration has also taken heat in recent days from neighboring Arizona, where Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has fumed at what she has said is a lack of action from the federal government. On Friday, after pushing President Biden to reassign the Arizona National Guard to the Lukeville port of entry, which had been besieged by a new migrant wave, she announced she was herself mobilizing the Guard.

“Yet again, the federal government is refusing to do its job to secure our border and keep our communities safe,” Hobbs said in a statement. “With this executive order, I am taking action where the federal government won’t. But we can’t stand alone. Arizona needs resources and manpower to reopen the Lukeville crossing, manage the flow of migrants and maintain a secure, orderly and humane border.

“Despite continued requests for assistance, the Biden administration has refused to deliver desperately needed resources to Arizona’s border.”

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