Democrats defeat border security bill in Texas House

Texas House Democrats defeated Speaker Dade Phelan’s (R-Beaumont) main priority border security bill after arguing that the bill caption did not give proper notice and the legislation contained multiple subjects in violation of House rules.

The bill was stalled when a point of order was called, a procedural move allowed in the Texas House rules often employed by lawmakers to defeat a bill if they spot an error.

On the advice of the parliamentarian, Phelan sustained the point of order brought by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas). In doing so, the speaker sent the bill back to committee after the slates of legislation had already been set and distributed for Thursday, the last day for the House to pass its own bills.

The deadline for the House to distribute its calendars with House bills and joint resolutions was 10:00 p.m. Tuesday.

Phelan said the bill constitutes a declaration of war and goes beyond the state’s right to self-defense, something that should have been discussed in the bill caption.

House Bill (HB) 20 by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) would have established a statewide border protection unit and granted Texas its own border patrol chief. The legislation was a priority for Phelan, who said Schaefer’s bill would have challenged the federal laws that place border enforcement solely in the purview of the federal government.

HB 20 would have invoked the “invasion” clauses of the U.S. and Texas constitutions to give state border unit officers the ability to turn back illegal aliens when seen crossing illegally. It would have given authority to the border protection unit to turn back illegal immigrants who were seen crossing the border.

Many counties along the southern border passed documents declaring illegal immigration and criminal trafficking to be an invasion. The course of action has been touted by advocates for stronger border enforcement.

The border protection unit would have continued through December 2030 unless that date was extended by the Legislature. The bill said any action by the State of Texas would have conformed to federal law on immigration and border security, a fact Schaefer reiterated on the floor Wednesday.

When he presented the bill in committee, Schaefer focused his arguments in favor of the bill on the increase in fentanyl trafficking and poisoning deaths. He repeated similar points on the floor Tuesday night.

“The fact is one pill can kill. The fact is that when we have tens of thousands of people buying, tens of thousands of people crossing the border illegally, our limited law enforcement resources cannot address the fentanyl that is coming into the State of Texas,” Schaefer told his colleagues on the floor.

Schaefer’s bill would have made it a felony of the third degree to trespass on private property while crossing the Texas border unlawfully.

Responding to questions from Anchia, Schaefer said border unit officers could have possibly used tear gas and less-lethal rounds of ammunition to repel illegal immigrants depending on the circumstances.

“I think it’s going to depend on the facts on the ground,” Schaefer told Anchia.

The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) to strike the enacting clause of the legislation, another method of defeating a bill. Neave and other Democrats argued the bill is conducive to racial profiling.

The Texas House considered a series of other border security measures designed to provide funding for courts along the border, increase human smuggling penalties, and institute other measures designed to respond to illegal immigration and criminal trafficking.

HB 800 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) would increase minimum penalties for human smuggling. The House passed HB 800 to engrossment.

Another bill, HB 7 by Guillen, would create a grant program for courts along the border and provide for border security agreements with Mexican states. Last year, Abbott used his executive authority to orchestrate a series of border security pacts with Mexican states including Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, and Coahuila.

HB 7 is also designed to provide compensation for those who experience property damage attributable to illegal immigration.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas is deploying a “tactical border force” to respond to the end of expulsions under the Title 42 public health order, which ends Thursday as the federal COVID-19 emergencies expire.

Texas has already spent billions of dollars on Operation Lone Star, the effort Abbott launched more than two years ago to supplement enforcement during the spike in illegal immigration that followed President Biden’s inauguration.

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