Understanding Immigration Laws in Texas

The state with the longest US-Mexico border has a long history of immigration policy. Among other things, Texas allows unauthorized immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. It also grants them access to services considered vital for protecting life and safety.

But the GOP-controlled legislature is considering a package of bills that would shift immigration enforcement duties from federal to state hands. One proposal would create roving border protection units that arrest asylum-seekers.


The federal government sets most immigration policies, including how someone becomes a citizen or enters the country as a legal permanent resident. However, states have the power to establish supplementary policies that allow them to determine which public services immigrants can access and set employee screening requirements.

The state of Texas’s law enforcement rules, for example, allow police officers to arrest unauthorized residents who commit certain crimes. The state also allows children without documents to pay in-state tuition at public universities.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot restrict state law enforcement from carrying out laws enacted by Congress. But it hasn’t weighed in on whether the president has the discretion to prioritize which non-citizens should be targeted for deportation.


Immigration is a major issue in the state of Texas. It affects the economy, social dynamics, and broader national politics. Immigrants contribute greatly to the state’s workforce in sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare, and education.

However, they are also a target of numerous anti-immigrant measures being considered in the state legislature. These bills aim to tighten the state’s border security, make it a felony to cross the border illegally, and limit the ability of local law enforcement officers to question people on their status.

Immigrants must have legal documentation in order to work in the United States. They are also eligible for certain public benefits such as Medicare and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and they can become naturalized citizens after living in the country for three to five years.


Asylum is protection granted by a sovereign state to a foreign national who cannot return home due to persecution, based on past harm or a well-founded fear of future harm. Individuals who seek asylum must meet the international law definition of a refugee, established by the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol. Congress incorporated the convention’s standards into U.S. law in 1980.

For example, suppose a woman from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras crosses into the U.S. illegally, avoiding an official port of entry. She may tell a border agent that she fears returning home to face increased violence, poverty and political dysfunction. The officer then interviews her to determine whether she meets the legal requirements for asylum. This process takes time, but is often expedited for children and spouses.


The E-Verify program allows employers to verify the employment eligibility of new hires. It compares a worker’s social security number and other information against government databases to confirm their legal status. Unauthorized migrants often pay substantial amounts for counterfeit documents to falsely prove they are authorized to work in the United States.

Florida’s new strict immigration law makes it a felony for people who transport illegal immigrants into the state unless they’ve been “inspected.” It also restricts social services and requires hospitals that receive Medicaid dollars to ask about patients’ citizenship status.

Several states have passed laws mandating the use of E-Verify, and Texas’s new law will require private businesses doing contract work for state agencies or receiving state economic incentives to use it. Employers who violate the law can be fined up to $1,000 per violation and have their business licenses revoked.


Understanding Immigration Laws in Texas involves many different issues and concerns. Those who wish to enter the country legally must obtain a visa, either nonimmigrant for a temporary stay or immigrant for permanent residence. Federal immigration officers enforce these laws, and entering the country illegally is a violation of the law and can result in deportation.

States also set policies on immigration issues. For example, they can decide which public services immigrants have access to and establish employee screening requirements. They may also impose additional eligibility restrictions on certain public benefits such as TANF, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), SSI and nonemergency Medicaid.

A green card gives an alien indefinite permission to live in the country and eventually qualifies them for citizenship. Citizenship has many rights that a permanent resident does not have.

Eric Sara
the authorEric Sara