US Justice Department sues Oklahoma over immigration enforcement law

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[May 22, 2024]  By Ted Hesson
 
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department sued Oklahoma on Tuesday over the state's new immigration enforcement law, saying it unlawfully encroaches on the federal government's power to regulate immigration.  

A U.S. Justice Department logo or seal showing Justice Department headquarters, known as "Main Justice," is seen behind the podium in the Department's headquarters briefing room before a news conference with the Attorney General in Washington, January 24, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/ File Photo

The law, signed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt this month, empowers state and local law enforcement officers to arrest immigrants suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. It is set to take effect on July 1.

Immigration is a top issue in the run-up to the Nov. 5 elections that will decide control of the White House and Congress as record numbers of migrants have been caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat seeking a second term, has pressed Republicans to pass a bipartisan border security bill in the U.S. Senate and blames his challenger Donald Trump for scuttling the effort.

Republicans say Biden encouraged illegal immigration by rolling back some of Trump's restrictive border policies.

The Justice Department is also challenging Republican-championed laws in Texas and Iowa similar to the one in Oklahoma. The Texas measure was blocked by a federal judge in February and kept on hold by a federal appeals court.

In the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, DOJ said it aimed to preserve the federal government's "exclusive authority under federal law to regulate the entry, reentry, and presence of noncitizens."

Under the Oklahoma law, a person found guilty of being in the state without legal immigration status faces a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $500.

The person also is required to leave the state within 72 hours of conviction or release from custody.

A second offense is a felony that could result in up to two years in prison and a fine of $1,000.

Immigrant advocates say the state-level immigration bills could encourage racial profiling.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Chang)

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