AUSTIN, Texas – On Thursday night, the Senate passed two bills that deal with immigration. One of the bills would let state police arrest people who cross the southern border.
Senate Bill 11, which is being pushed by Granbury Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell, would make it a new crime to enter Texas illegally from Mexico and give state police the power to arrest people who do this. If someone breaks the law for the first time, they could be charged with a misdemeanor. But if they have a criminal record and have broken the law more than once, they would be charged with a felony. With a vote of 19 to 12, the Senate gave SB 11 its first approval. The Senate has to vote on the bill one last time before it can go to the House.
With a vote of 19 to 12, the Senate gave SB 11 its first approval. The Senate has to vote on the bill one last time before it can go to the House. Senate Bill 4, which is backed by state Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, would make the minimum sentence for smuggling immigrants or running a stash house 10 years instead of two years. SB 4 passed with votes from both parties, 29 to 2.
Since the regular session ended earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a third special legislative session earlier this month. He asked lawmakers to pass bills on school vouchers and immigration enforcement. During both the regular session and the previous special session, Abbott asked lawmakers to pass immigration enforcement bills. However, lawmakers couldn’t agree, and the session ended without passing an immigration enforcement bill.
Abbott has been critical of Biden’s administration for years, saying that the president is to blame for the record number of people caught by Border Patrol at the southern border.
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he was worried about how well counties would be able to follow SB 11. He said that the large number of people who would be arrested would put local jails to the limit and would require a lot of money to defend migrants who are arrested.
If SB 11 is passed, Sen. César Blanco thought it would cost taxpayers in El Paso, who are his constituents, an extra $60,000 per day. “My concern is the State of Texas may add a layer on top of what we are dealing with in terms of both border security and a humanitarian crisis that has developed and continues to affect our communities,” the Democrat said in the Senate. Birdwell introduced the bill and said that many of its costs would be covered by money that was set aside during the regular session as part of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security plan.
The most recent federal immigration data shows that immigration officers met with 2.2 million migrants in fiscal year 2023. The numbers for September have not been released yet. When the numbers are added up for the last month, 2023 could beat the record-setting 2.3 million encounters with migrants in fiscal year 2022.
Birdwell said that the federal government might sue over SB 11 at a committee meeting on Tuesday. Lower federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have both said that the federal government is the only one that can enforce the country’s immigration laws. Over the years, states have tried to make their own immigration laws, but those laws have been thrown out or made less strict after being challenged in court.
Even so, Birdwell said he is sure that his bill would be upheld in court if the federal government sued Texas. “It is carefully tailored to avoid intruding on federal immigration enforcement authority while providing law enforcement with an important new tool to deter improper or unlawful entry into Texas,” he said in the committee meeting.
Supporters of immigrant rights and Dallas County Assistant Administrator Charles Reed spoke out against Birdwell’s plan. Reed said that if it became law, it could cause too many migrants to be arrested by state police and end up in county jails. He said that the county might have to raise taxes if it has to pay a lot of money to jail migrants.
“We are absolutely terrified that this bill will take us over our [jail capacity],” said Reed. A study of the bill’s finances says there isn’t enough information to guess how much it will cost, but adding a new crime could mean “additional demands upon state correctional resources due to a possible increase in the number of individuals placed under supervision in the community or sentenced to a term of confinement.”