Republican lawmakers in Texas are pushing legislation that would make it a state felony to cross the border from Mexico illegally and establish a state unit of officers to assist with the arrests of migrants entering the state at places other than ports of entry.
Introduced by Texas GOP state Rep. Matt Schaefer, House Bill 20 would create a “Border Protection Unit” that allows its officers to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally including with the use of non-deadly force.”
Schaefer’s bill, which will have to pass both of Texas’ Republican-controlled legislative chambers before the end of May, notes that officers serving in the unit must be U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, and have law enforcement experience.
The state House proposal would also give officers serving in the unit immunity “from criminal and civil liability for any actions taken that are authorized” under the proposed law. In addition, civilians who have not been convicted of a felony could also be invited by the unit’s chief, which will be appointed by the governor, “to participate in unit operations and functions, but such persons may not have arresting authority unless trained and specifically authorized by the governor.”
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People arrested for crossing into Texas illegally would face up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines for each violation.
Another bill introduced in the state Senate by GOP state Sen. Brian Birdwell, would make it a state crime for people who forgo legal immigration proceedings and cross into Texas illegally.
Birdwell’s legislation, which has received support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would “jail a person for a year or two years if the person tried to enter the country a second time” and “also punish the person to life in prison if they had been previously convicted of a felony,” according to the Texas Tribune.
The offices of Schaefer and Birdwell did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the proposed legislation, all of which is seen as a direct test to federal immigration law.
Under current federal law, individuals who are arrested for entering the country illegally could face a misdemeanor charge. Those arrested a second time under current law, could then be charged with a felony and banned from entering the country for a number of years.
Texas GOP House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement that “addressing our state’s border and humanitarian crisis” was a priority for lawmakers in the state and that the proposed border police — as well as a proposed Legislative Border Safety Oversight Committee, which would provide border safety policy recommendations and oversight to the new policing unit and work on issues in South Texas — was a “must-pass issue.”
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The Republican proposals in the state legislature serve as an extended effort to advance Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort to wrangle illegal border crossings known as Operation Lone Star.
The $4 billion border initiative from the governor has included an increase in patrols near the border with Mexico, gridlocking traffic with increased commercial truck inspections, and building more barriers along the international boundary. The effort also included directing officers to detain migrants who trespass on private property and bused thousands of migrants to Democrat-led cities, including New York and Washington, D.C.
Civil rights organizations and Texas Democrats were quick to denounce the legislation in the state.
“It is designed to create racial profiling,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told The Associated Press. “Something that is just horrendous.”
“I think the underlying fact that it is going to allow people to question our being American in our border communities and across Texas is unacceptable,” Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, chairwoman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said, according to The Associated Press.
Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital when asked about the proposals in the state.
Since taking office in January 2021, President Biden has watched as illegal border crossings have surged. Many migrants who have turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents and were released into the U.S. interior as they await federal immigration court proceedings.
There were over 1.7 million encounters of migrants at the border in FY 21 and more than 2.3 million in FY 22. So far in FY 2023, which began in October, there have been more than a million encounters.
The House Homeland Security Committee announced last month that it would hold its first field hearing on the crisis at the southern border on March 15, giving Republicans a chance to highlight what they say is the direct link between the chaos and disorder at the border and the Biden administration’s policies.
Democrats on the committee, however, are reportedly bailing from attending the hearing that would provide lawmakers with a first-hand look at the communities affected by the influx of migrants.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw, Greg Wehner, and The Associated Press contributed to this article.