Texas Lawmakers Propose Making Illegal Immigration a Felony
According to the Border Protection Unit Act’s text, if two-thirds of both houses approve the act it will take effect immediately.
The Republican leadership in the Texas House announced last week that passing a bill to make illegal immigration a felony is a top priority this spring.
The “Border Protection Unit Act,” introduced last week by state Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer and supported by key leaders of the majority-Republican Texas House of Representatives, would create a specialized border protection police force and make illegal immigration a state felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan issued a March 10 press release announcing that House leadership will prioritize passing the Border Protection Unit Act.
“Addressing our state’s border and humanitarian crisis is a must-pass issue for the Texas House this year, and I thank Representatives Guillen and Schaefer for filing … [bills that] will lead to a safer Texas that overall reduces the cost to taxpayers,” Phelan said.
The act would give the new border protection unit full legal authority to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally including with the use of nondeadly force.” Additionally, the unit’s chief, who would be appointed by the governor, would have the authority to deputize civilians “to participate in unit operations and functions” so long as those individuals have not been convicted of a felony.”
Another bill proposed by state Rep. Ryan Guillen would establish a Border Safety Oversight Committee to oversee the new border protection unit and provide border policy recommendations to the Legislature.
The Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus immediately denounced Schaefer’s proposed legislation, calling it an “extreme vigilante death squads policy.”
“This dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional proposal which empowers border vigilantes to hunt migrants and racially profile Latinos is going to result in the death of innocent people,” the statement read.
Schaefer responded in a tweet:
“The Texas Border Protection Unit will be an organization of professional men and women hired/trained under the authority of the Dept. of Public Safety to protect Texans. Many will be licensed peace officers, others trained and specifically authorized by the Governor to make lawful arrests. Exactly as the Nat’l Guard & DPS operate now under Operation Lone Star.”
The Texas Border Protection Unit will be an organization of professional men and women hired/trained under the authority of the Dept of Public Safety to protect Texans. Many will be licensed peace officers, others trained and specifically authorized by the Governor to make lawful… https://t.co/6Z1a9EsmvD
— Matt Schaefer (@RepMattSchaefer) March 11, 2023
Operation Lone Star is an ongoing border security initiative that was first launched in the spring of 2021 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The initiative has dedicated billions of state dollars and resources to border security and sent thousands of public safety officers and National Guard soldiers to the Texas-Mexico border.
To become law, Schaefer’s bill will have to pass both houses of the Texas Legislature before the end of the legislative session in May. Republicans hold majorities in both the Texas House and Senate, making increased border security policies very possible.
According to the Border Protection Unit Act’s text, if two-thirds of both houses approve the act it will take effect immediately. If the bill is passed without a two-thirds majority, it will take effect on Sept. 1 of this year.
Texas Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell introduced similar legislation in the Senate, making illegally crossing the border a state felony punishable by jail time. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, has signaled his support for Birdwell’s bill.
Abbott, who is a Catholic Republican, has said that securing the border is an “emergency item” for the 2023 Texas legislative session.
A Feb. 16 press release from Abbott’s office announced that he intends to work with the Legislature to “secure another $4.6 billion to bolster border security efforts” and to “pass legislation making it at least a 10-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone caught smuggling in Texas.”
With a record 2.76 million-plus undocumented migrants crossing the border in the fiscal year 2022, illegal immigration has been a growing concern for not only Republicans but also some key Democrats, including President Joe Biden.
In February, the Biden administration announced a new policy that will take effect May 11 and automatically deny asylum to migrants who cross the border illegally or cross other countries illegally to get into the United States. Biden’s new rule, which is his most restrictive border policy yet, will remain in effect until May 11, 2025.
Responding to Biden’s new policy, Dylan Corbett of the Catholic relief group Hope Border Institute told CNA that those setting immigration policy should consider the effects on migrants.
“We spend billions of dollars every year on border and immigration enforcement. There is no doubt that we can reinvest some of those resources into putting in place a safe, efficient, welcoming system at the border that upholds the rights of vulnerable migrants and keeps our country safe.
“At this point, it is only a question of overcoming the political hurdles. Unfortunately, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle today only see the political cost of making progress on immigration, but they don’t realize that there is also a moral cost to shutting the door on the most vulnerable that is far more consequential,” Corbett said.