My New Lawfare Article on Why “Immigration is Not Invasion”

March 25, 2024   |   Tags: , , , ,
Migrants wait in line at the U.S.-Mexico border | Carlos A. Moreno/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom
Venezuelans fleeing the socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro. (NA)


Today, Lawfare published my article on why Texas is wrong to equate illegal migration and cross-border drug smuggling with "invasion" in two important cases currently being litigated before the federal courts. Some of the points made in the article are developed in greater detail in an amicus brief I recently filed in United States v. Abbott, on behalf of the Cato Institute and myself.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

In two important cases currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the state of Texas has advanced the argument that illegal migration and drug smuggling qualify as an "invasion" authorizing the state to "engage in war" in response, under Article I of the Constitution. So far, federal courts have uniformly rejected such claims. But if they were to accept them, drastic consequences would follow. Border-state governments would be empowered to attack neighboring countries, even without congressional authorization. And the federal government would have the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus—thereby detaining people without due process—almost anytime it wants. In addition to these practical considerations, Texas's "invasion" argument is at odds with the text and original meaning of the Constitution.

In United States v. Abbott the federal government is suing Texas for installing floating buoy barriers in the Rio Grande to block migration and drug smuggling, thereby creating safety hazards and possibly impeding navigation….  The Biden administration claims this violates the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, which bars "[t]he creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States." In United States v. Texas, the state is defending the legality of S.B. 4, a new state law that criminalizes unauthorized migration, expands state law enforcement officials' powers to detain undocumented migrants, and gives Texas state courts the authority to order removal of migrants convicted under the law. The federal government claims S.B. 4 is preempted by federal law and that it infringes on federal authority over immigration.

In both cases, Texas argues the federal government's interpretation of the relevant statutes is wrong. But, more importantly, the state also contends that the Invasion Clause of Article I of the Constitution gives it the power to install buoys in the river border it shares with Mexico and to enforce S.B. 4 even if federal statutes forbid such actions. Article I, Section 10, Clause 3, of the Constitution states that "[n]o state shall, without the Consent of Congress, … engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay." Texas claims illegal migration and drug smuggling qualify as "invasion" and that, therefore, the Constitution gives the state the power to take military action in response in defiance of federal statutes, and even in the absence of congressional authorization for war….

The constitutional text undermines the idea that "invasion" includes illegal migration and smuggling. The Invasion Clause relied on by Texas allows states to "engage in war" in response. That suggests an "invasion" must be the kind of organized assault that would normally justify full-scale war in response, including sending troops to attack and occupy the country from which the invasion originated….

The Guarantee Clause of Article IV of the Constitution states that the federal government must protect the states "against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence." Here, invasion is paired with "domestic Violence"—which in 18th century usage refers to uprisings against the state government, not the modern use of the term to denote violence in family and intimate relationships. Under the long-standing doctrine of noscitur a sociis, "a word may be known by the company it keeps." Here, it makes little sense to assume that "invasion" includes nonviolent actions, when it is coupled with "domestic Violence."

The original meaning reinforces the text….

In his Report of 1800, James Madison,one of the leading framers of the Constitution, responded to claims that the Guarantee Clause authorized the notorious Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 by emphasizing that "[i]nvasion is an operation of war,"and thus the Clause does not authorize restrictions on immigration. The same logic applies to the use of "invasion" in Article I.

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