Texas border security measures back on the agenda with latest special session

Texas lawmakers assembled in Austin on Monday for a third special session to consider school choice legislation and border security measures.

The regular session, which ended May 29, was disappointing for some proponents of stricter border security proposals. Their hopes were revived after Gov. Greg Abbott promised to place the issue on the special session agenda.

The items of business on the governor’s call include legislation to create a criminal statute against illegal immigration, increasing penalties for human smuggling, and funding border wall construction and other barrier systems.

Abbott also included possible reforms amid growing concern among some Republicans about a housing development in the Houston area said to be a haven for illegal immigrants.

The proclamation authorized the Legislature to consider “legislation concerning public safety, security, environmental quality, and property ownership in areas like the Colony Ridge development in Liberty County, Texas.”

Earlier this year, a proposal by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) to declare an “invasion” on the southern border and create a border protection unit failed after Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) sustained a point of order that the bill caption did not give adequate notice to the public.

According to Phelan, one of the reasons the bill could not proceed was that the caption did not account for the fact that the bill constituted a declaration of war extending beyond the state’s right of self-defense through the U.S. Constitution’s invasion provision.

In the same session, another piece of legislation by Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) tried to salvage parts of Schaefer’s bill, but Guillen’s plan expired in a conference committee. Schaefer filed the bill again in the current special session; however, the “invasion” clauses are now absent from the bill.

Instead, Schaefer filed House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 21 to invoke Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution and declare an invasion by foreign drug cartels. The resolution expresses a “demand” that the federal government declare drug cartels to be foreign terrorist organizations.

House Bill (HB) 75 would create a border protection unit and call for the appointment of a state chief of border protection. The text of the bill calls for the construction of barriers along the southern border, and includes a policy in the mold of the Title 42 public health order that allowed for the rapid expulsion of illegal immigrants during the pandemic.

Abbott previously backed a similar “Texas Title 42” plan by Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Waxahachie).

Also this session, Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) filed legislation to expand the eminent domain authority for the border wall project.

On the federal level, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently directed his subordinates to resume construction of the border wall in Starr County using funds that were appropriated during the Trump administration, a decision that drew the ire of some who view it as a breach of President Biden’s campaign promise to stop construction of the border wall.

Reps. Terri Leo-Wilson (R-Galveston), Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), and Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) also filed bills to create a Texas border protection force.

Geren and Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) filed bills to create a state criminal statute prohibiting illegal entry across the border by a foreign national. A similar bill was lost to a point of order during the regular session.

Another bill by Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) would make it a third-degree felony for an illegal immigrant to disobey a peace officer’s lawful order to return to a port of entry and leave the country.

Cain, state Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), and state Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) also filed bills to increase the criminal penalty for human smuggling.

Abbott and other proponents of stronger border security measures say the Biden administration has failed to secure the border and the State of Texas has a right to fill the void.

Opponents of such bills say immigration and border security are federal responsibilities and that creating additional criminal statutes and a state border protection force will result in unlawful profiling and civil rights violations.

These policy discussions are imperiled by a feud between Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that escalated upon the Texas Senate’s acquittal of Attorney General Ken Paxton on 16 impeachment charges.

Patrick’s latest grievance against Phelan is a statement the speaker published on Monday morning condemning former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) and his interest group, Defend Texas Liberty PAC, for meeting with a prolific white supremacist and antisemite.

Phelan called on Patrick and other elected officials to return campaign donations received from the PAC.

While Patrick agreed with Phelan’s condemnation of racist and antisemitic ideologies, he accused Phelan of politicizing the recent terrorist attacks against Israelis by Hamas. Patrick called on the speaker to resign.

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