Louisiana Proposes Bill Similar to Texas' Migrant Arrest Law

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Louisiana's Republican-controlled Senate advanced a bill Monday that would empower state and local law enforcement to arrest and jail people in the state who entered the U.S. illegally, similar to embattled legislation in Texas.

Amid national fights between Republican states and Democratic President Joe Biden over how and who should enforce the U.S.-Mexico border, Louisiana joins a growing list of legislatures seeking to expand states' authority over border enforcement.

Proponents of the bill, such as the legislation's author GOP state Sen. Valarie Hodges, say Louisiana has the "right to defend our nation." Hodges has accused the federal government of neglecting responsibilities to enforce immigration law, an argument heard from GOP leaders across the country.

Opponents argue the bill is unconstitutional, will not do anything to make the state safer, and will only fuel negative and false rhetoric directed toward migrants.

Across the nation, reliably red legislatures have advanced tougher immigration enforcement measures. The Oklahoma House passed a bill that would prohibit state revenue from being used to provide benefits to those living in the state illegally. A bill in Tennessee, which is awaiting the governor's signature, would require law enforcement agencies in the state to communicate with federal immigration authorities if they discover people who are in the country illegally. Measures that mirror parts of the Texas law are awaiting the governor's signature in Iowa, while another is pending in Idaho's statehouse.

Although Louisiana does not border Mexico, bills and policies targeting migrants suspected of entering the country illegally have been pushed to the forefront over the past four months under new conservative leadership. One bill looks to ban sanctuary city policies that allow local law enforcement to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials unless ordered by a court. Another would set up funding to send Louisiana National Guard members to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. New Republican Gov. Jeff Landry has also begun directing state agencies to collect and publish data on migrants in the state.

"I think all of us in here know that we have a crisis at the border and our federal government is not doing anything to help the states," Sen. Hodges said during floor debate Monday.

Louisiana's bill would create the crime of "illegal entry or reentry" into Louisiana. Illegal reentry includes people who were previously "denied admission, excluded, deported, or otherwise removed from the U.S." The bill passed the Senate along party lines after 10 minutes of debate and now heads to the House.

Like the Texas law, which has been put on hold by a federal appeals court panel that is considering whether to continue blocking enforcement pending further appeals, Louisiana's bill would expand the authority of state and local law enforcement. In addition, Hodges said it would "start the deportation process." Currently, enforcement of immigration law regarding illegal entry and deportations has long been the exclusive domain of federal law enforcement.

Under Louisiana's bill, anyone who violates the proposed law would face up to a year in prison and a $4,000 fine for a first offense, and up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine for a second offense. Necessary witnesses or victims of certain crimes -- such as murder, rape, human trafficking, kidnapping, involuntary servitude and blackmail -- would be the exception.

In addition, the bill would authorize Gov. Landry to make an interstate compact with Texas and other states willing to participate in Texas' state-led border security efforts. Proponents say the provision will help prevent illegal border crossings by sharing information and "state resources to build surveillance systems and physical barriers to deter illegal activity along the border."

Opponents of Louisiana's bill say it is an overreach of state authority, would increase racial profiling and could clog court systems.

"It's going to create a backlog in our courts, it's going to drain state resources, and it's not going to actually reduce crime or make Louisiana any safer," Huey Fischer García, a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said during a hearing on the bill last month.

If Louisiana's bill is approved by the House and signed by the governor, who Hodges says supports the measure, it would take effect only if the Supreme Court upholds the Texas law or if the U.S. Constitution is amended to increase local border enforcement authority.