The Texas Legislature is poised to test the state’s power to implement immigration laws and strengthen border security. Two proposals introduced this session seek the removal of illegal immigrants who enter the United States between ports of entry and ask for harsh jail penalties for re-entry after removal.
A Texas legislator introduced legislation that would allow the state to remove migrants who unlawfully cross the border between ports of entry and deport them to Mexico. A bill introduced in the Texas Senate would impose harsh penalties for illegally reentering Texas after being deported.
On March 10, Texas State Rep. Matt Schaffer (R-Tyler) introduced House Bill 20. The bill proposes the formation of a new law enforcement agency known as the “Border Protection Unit” (BPU).
The bill empowers BPU officers (licensed officers of the law) to “deter and resist” migrants seeking to enter Texas unlawfully outside of a port of entry. It also empowers BPU officers to “return immigrants to Mexico who were captured or detained in the close vicinity of the Mexican Border and were spotted actually crossing the Mexican Border illegally.”
These authorities are authorized “to the full accordance with the U.S. and Texas constitutions including federal immigration laws,” according to the measure.
Schaffer’s bill represents one of the seven border security proposals named as legislative priorities by House Speaker Dade Phelan on Friday. Phelan’s staff wrote in a statement provided by the speaker:
“To staff the operation, the Border Protection Team would be headquartered near the border and would emphasize the recruitment of persons that either are residents of or have considerable expertise with border areas. Texas National Guard soldiers, game wardens,and state troopers, who have been stationed along the border for weeks or even months at a time are going to return home, and be returned to their core roles and communities.”
The bill also permits the use of “non-lethal force” to deter unauthorized border crossings.
On Friday, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) introduced Senate Bill 2424 into the Texas Senate. The bill is about “creating the criminal offense of an improper entry from a foreign nation.”
The bill would make entering Texas by someone who is not a US citizen or national outside of a site designated by US immigration officials as being a port of entry a state crime. The first infraction would be classified as a Class A misdemeanor. In Texas, the penalty is up to one year in the county jail and a $4,000 fine.
The law allows for penalty enhancements ranging from 25 years to life in prison for people who illegally re-enter the state after already being deported for different criminal offenses. If the migrant re-enters after being convicted of a first-degree crime anything above, the offense is a felony of the first degree.