Three Bills Moving In Texas Special Session to Increase Border Security
FAIR Take | October 2023
Despite heated debates, three bills have made significant movement in the Texas legislature during the third special session of this year. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called legislators back to the Capitol on October 9 for a 30-day session to focus on immigration and school choice. This is the second special session called to debate immigration. The first ended without accomplishing Governor Abbott’s priorities when the House passed a bill and then quickly adjourned.
This time, Governor Abbott called lawmakers back to focus on legislation that will impede illegal entry into Texas. In his special session proclamation, Governor Abbott said, “Texas will pass laws to mirror the federal immigration laws President Joe Biden refuses to enforce that will reduce illegal immigration and enhance the safety of Texans.” Altogether, the bills he has asked the legislature to debate authorize criminal charges for illegal aliens entering Texas from Mexico, increase penalties for smugglers and stash house operators, increase funding for border barrier construction, and initiate an investigation into a sanctuary subdivision near Houston.
The specific proposals include the following:
House Bill (HB) 4 authorizes the state to impose criminal charges for illegal entry into Texas from Mexico. This legislation, which is substantially similar to Senate Bill (SB) 11, which passed the senate earlier this month, gives Texas law enforcement the authority to arrest and return illegal aliens to a port of entry (POE) at the southern border. First-time offenders have the option to comply with the law; failure to do so results in fines and possible imprisonment of up to 180 days. Repeat offenders or those with outstanding warrants could face sentences of up to two years.
Members of the Texas House of Representatives debated HB 4 for days, as many Democrats proposed amendments to the bill. A major point of contention occurred when State Representative Cody Harris put forth a motion to block all new amendments. This motion passed, and House Speaker Dade Phelan called for a break, which lasted hours. Eventually, Phelan allowed for each proposed amendment to be heard.
Critics of HB 4, such as State Representative Victoria Criado and Armando Walle are concerned about racial profiling and the possibility of accidentally deporting U.S. citizens.
State Representative David Spiller, who sponsors HB 4, states the opposite- “It is a humane, logical, and efficient approach. There is nothing unfair about ordering someone back from where they came if they arrived here illegally.”
Despite tensions in the House, HB 4 successfully cleared the chamber by a vote of 84-60. The measure now heads to the Senate.
House Bill (HB) 6 allocates $1.5 billion in funding for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a 50-mile border infrastructure between Texas and Mexico.
During the debate in the House, Democrats introduced an amendment to prevent money from being used for additional buoy barriers in the Rio Grande, like the one in Eagle Pass. Fortunately, that amendment failed.
The House passed HB 6 in an 84-61 vote around 4 a.m. Thursday morning. The bill now heads to the Texas Senate for a final vote. The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Jacey Jetton, made it clear that having an actual barrier is the first step to helping fight illegal immigration, stating, “Our goal in the legislature is to make sure that our law enforcement has all the tools in the toolbox that they need to secure our border, and this is one of them.”
If approved by the Senate, Texas could see the construction of nearly 100 miles of border barriers, both on land and in water, completed by September 2026.
Senate Bill (SB) 4 proposes significant changes to sentencing guidelines, raising the minimum sentence for operating stash houses to five years and for smuggling illegal aliens to ten years. SB 4 passed the Senate in a 29-2 vote and then passed the House 90-57. It has one more procedural vote before it is sent to Governor Abbott.
State Representative Ryan Guillen, who sponsored SB 4, stated “What we’re trying to do with this bill is deter smuggling. We’re throwing the book at [them].”
Finally, House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 1 will order an investigation of the Colony Ridge subdivision, located approximately 30 miles north of Houston. Texas lawmakers have become increasingly concerned that the development has become safe haven for illegal aliens and a magnet for crime.
Last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s sent a letter to Texas’s members of Congress urging them to investigate the Colony Ridge subdivision, According to Paxton, “The scale of the Colony Ridge development has proved unmanageable for effective law enforcement and other key standards of acceptable governance. Violent crime, drug trafficking, environmental deterioration, public disturbances, infrastructure overuse, and other problems have plagued the area and nearby towns.”
Although Liberty County’s Sheriff, Bobby Rader, stated that the community does have a cartel and gang presence, opponents of the investigation claim that it is a political stunt catalyzed by the subdivision owner’s left-leaning monetary contributions.
Governor Abbott’s ongoing concerns over the Biden administration’s immigration policies have set the stage for Texas to take decisive action. As recent Customs and Border Protection statistics reveal that over 3.2 million illegal aliens have been encountered nationwide this fiscal year, Texas continues to remain at the forefront of this issue.