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Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma Face DOJ Lawsuits Over State Laws Endangering Long-Settled Immigrants and U.S. Citizens of Color

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The Department of Justice has sued Oklahoma over its anti-immigrant law, becoming the latest such lawsuit filed by the federal government in recent weeks over Texas-style legislation endangering long-settled immigrants and U.S. citizens of color alike. The lawsuits against Texas, Iowa, and now Oklahoma “signal that the Biden administration is taking an aggressive stance against states taking immigration matters into their own hands,” Axios reported.

In its lawsuit against Oklahoma, the Department of Justice stated that H.B. 4156, which was signed into place by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt in April, interferes with the federal government’s “exclusive authority” to regulate immigration.

“Oklahoma cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a May 21 statement. “We have brought this action to ensure that Oklahoma adheres to the Constitution and the framework adopted by Congress for regulation of immigration.”   

Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City said the legislation “has caused increased anxiety and stress for many communities across Oklahoma,” which is home to roughly 83,000 undocumented immigrants. In supporting the legislation, state Republicans ​​argued in part “that people who live in the U.S. illegally are connected to cartels, drugs and trafficking in the state,” PBS News reported. Not true. We have repeatedly pointed out that fentanyl is largely trafficked by U.S. citizens and permanent residents and is not an immigration issue.

In reality, “this bill would affect people who have been here for decades and contributed millions in tax dollars without ever having a criminal offense,” Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City noted. But it’ll threaten U.S. citizens too. 

“HB 4156 is one of the most extreme anti-immigrant bills to be passed by any state, undoubtedly leading directly to racial profiling and subjecting thousands of Black and Brown Oklahomans to the state’s criminal legal system,” said Tamya Cox-Touré, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. “Local law enforcement lacks the expertise and the constitutional authority to interpret and enforce immigration law.” The organization is part of a coalition of groups that has since sued over the copycat legislation.

In May, the Justice Department and a coalition of civil rights groups also filed separate lawsuits over Iowa’s copycat law. The groups described S.F. 2340, which was signed by GOP Governor Kim Reynolds in April, as “one of the worst, most far-reaching immigration laws” ever passed in the state. In its lawsuit, the Justice Department challenged the bill’s flagrant disregard for federal law. “We have brought this action to ensure that Iowa adheres to the framework adopted by Congress and the Constitution for regulation of immigration,” Boynton said at the time. 

In their lawsuit, civil rights groups expressed concern over authorities sweeping up residents who have legal permission to be here.

Among those at risk is 18-year-old “Anna,” who fled Honduras after her family was violently attacked. “She was brought to the U.S. with her mother when she was 14 and then deported,” the groups said. “Shortly after, still fearing for her life, she reentered the U.S. again, this time unaccompanied. She applied for and received asylum and is now here lawfully, living with an Iowa family and attending high school.” 

However, because S.F. 2340 makes no exceptions for people who later gained lawful status or are in the process of gaining lawful status, Anna could be at risk of being deported to Mexico, where she knows no one.

Texas’ S.B. 4 – which inspired the bills in Oklahoma, Iowa, and a number of other GOP states – is currently at the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. During a hearing in April, even Texas’ Solicitor General  – arguing in favor of S.B. 4 – admitted the law went “too far.” We’ve already seen how past anti-immigrant laws in the states have impacted communities and local economies beyond their supposed targets. “Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields, ag chief tells US lawmakers,” the Associated Press reported following the state’s passage of the H.B. 87, which was modeled after Arizona’s notorious S.B. 1070. 

Both laws were largely thrown out by the courts, to the relief of local and state businesses, consumers, and probably even some of the GOP lawmakers who were behind the proposals. But some folks never learn. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis passed his own proposal as part of an effort boosting his failed presidential run. “Florida attorney says new anti-immigration law causing ‘ripple effect,’ leading to rising produce prices,” read one recent headline.​​ 

We suspect a lot of businesses and farms in these states are hoping for similar relief from the courts.They know what it means even if they don’t tell their GOP buddies in the legislature.

Oklahoma’s law “will have devastating consequences for Oklahoma families and communities,” said Noor Zafar, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Friends, family members, neighbors, and community members will be pushed into harm’s way regardless of their immigration status, local resources will be unfairly strained, and constitutional due process rights will be trampled upon. Oklahoma should reject these efforts to divide their communities.”

RELATED: Texas Republicans Should Be Glad Courts Blocked Their Anti-Immigrant Bill. Just Look At the Effects of DeSantis’ Extreme Legislation in Florida

‘Iowa Cannot Disregard the U.S. Constitution’: Justice Department, Civil Rights Groups Sue Over State’s Extreme Anti-Immigrant Law

Legal Experts and Judges: Texas’ SB4 Law Went “Too Far”