IMMIGRATIONEnforcing Texas’ New Immigration Law May Be Challenging, Even for Authorities That Support It

By Alejandro Serrano

Published 21 March 2024

A new law allowing local authorities to deport migrants remains tied up in court. Even if it goes back into effect, logistical challenges could complicate enforcement. S.B. 4 remains temporarily blocked while a federal appeals court weighs a challenge from Texas to a lower court’s ruling that struck the law down. The lower court found that the law “threatens the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice.”

Terrell County Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland has 54 miles of U.S.-Mexico border in the West Texas jurisdiction he patrols, and five deputies.

Cleveland said he “fully” supports Texas’ new immigration law that will let authorities like him arrest people suspected of illegally entering the state from another country. He also appreciates Operation Lone Star, the state’s border security initiative that has given him funds to hire two deputies and buy equipment and vehicles.

But Cleveland, who served as a Border Patrol agent for 26 years before becoming sheriff of the county where he grew up, must also contemplate reality. His jail can only hold seven people, he said. The nearest legal points of entry into the country, through which those arrested under the new law would have to be returned in some instances, are hours away.

“Business as usual here, meaning: We have that tool in our toolbelt if we need it,” Cleveland said of the new law during a phone interview Wednesday that he had to briefly pause to answer a 911 call. “But we have a Border Patrol station here that I will more than likely continue to just turn over our apprehensions [to].”

Such may be a common reality in pockets of Texas if Senate Bill 4 clears its pending legal challenges. A day after the law went into effect for roughly nine hours between conflicting court rulings, glimmers of its next challenge emerged: The logistics of applying the law — which is in uncharted legal territory for the way it involves state and local authorities in immigration matters — to a land as big and diverse as Texas.

Many law enforcement officials support the measure. But major questions persist about how, when and if local authorities will enforce it.

“There’s so much that we don’t really know what it’s even going to look like. We don’t have precedent for a state doing this. It kind of changes the game,” said Jamie Longazel, a political science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who wrote a book about a controversial immigration law passed by a Pennsylvania city. “Migration is about someone coming from one country into another and so two national governments deal with the question. Now you’re having Texas and Mexico deal with this, potentially.”