US Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas says Texas immigration law is unconstitutional
Posted: March 22, 2024 - 2:01am

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday that a Texas law giving state authorities the power to arrest and deport migrants who have entered the country illegally is unconstitutional.

“It is our strongly held view as a matter of law that SB4 (the Texas law) ... is unconstitutional and it is our hope and confidence that the courts will strike it down with finality,” Mayorkas said during a joint news conference with Guatemala President Bernardo Arevalo in the Guatemalan capital.

The Texas law passed last year would allow the state to arrest and deport people who enter the U.S. illegally. The U.S. Justice Department has challenged the law as a clear violation of federal authority.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on the Texas law Wednesday, but did not rule. The law is on hold for now.

In an interview with The Associated Press later Thursday, Mayorkas added that “Should SB4 be permitted to proceed, we are very concerned about the effect it would have and the chaos that it could bring to the challenge of border migration.”

Mayorkas described the U.S.-led regional strategy toward immigration as seeking to “build lawful, safe and orderly pathways for people to reach safety from their place of persecution and, at the same time, returning people to their countries as a consequence when they do not take advantage of those lawful pathways.”

Among those safe pathways is a U.S. effort to streamline the process for those seeking U.S. asylum in the region through so-called safe mobility offices. They allow migrants to start the process where they are rather than making the dangerous and costly journey to the U.S. border.

Guatemala's safe mobility office, unlike some others like Colombia's, is only open to Guatemalans seeking U.S. protection. One of the requests made by Mayorkas' delegation was that Guatemala allow the safe mobility office to process requests for migrants from other countries, according to a Guatemalan official who requested anonymity because the issue was still under discussion.

Asked during the joint news conference if the U.S. government had asked Guatemala to sign a safe third country agreement, which Guatemala’s previous president had agreed to during the Trump administration, Mayorkas did not directly answer. Such an agreement would require migrants from other countries passing through Guatemala to seek protection from the Guatemalan government rather than at the U.S. border.

Asked again in the interview with the AP, Mayorkas said that Guatemala could be a safe destination for some migrants, but that he deferred to Arevalo’s administration on that.

The U.S. has sought to improve cooperation with countries along the migrant route, including Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, but Mayorkas acknowledged that it has been more challenging in Nicaragua and Venezuela, where the U.S. has strained relations with those governments.

Arevalo explained the talks in similar terms. “We are operating under the principle that the immigration phenomenon is a regional phenomenon and that for that reason has to have answers framed in the collaborative efforts of different countries," he said.

Mayorkas also offered words of support for the Guatemalan leader, whose election victory last year was challenged and whose party still faces prosecution from Guatemala's attorney general.

“We know that the forces of corruption continue to seek to threaten democracy and the well-being of the people of Guatemala and beyond," Mayorkas said. "The United States stands with President Arevalo and his fight for democracy against the forces of corruption and for the people of Guatemala.”