Texas House approves border security bills

The Texas House of Representatives gave final passage to a series of measures on Wednesday and early Thursday morning designed to deter human smuggling and fund the construction of additional southern border barrier infrastructure.

House Bill (HB) 6 would spend another $1.5 billion on Gov. Greg Abbott’s border barrier projects, which have already received hundreds of millions of dollars from the state Legislature. Representatives passed the bill on third reading by a vote of 84 ayes to 61 nays.

The chamber also passed a bill to create a criminal statute making illegal immigration a misdemeanor, or a felony for subsequent offenses or if other aggravating factors are present. HB 4 passed on third reading by a vote of 84 ayes to 60 nays. 

HB 4 would also empower state law enforcement to escort illegal immigrants to a port of entry and order them to leave. The bill would make it a second-degree felony for an illegal immigrant to disobey such a directive.

The legislation passed after hours of heated debate, including a confrontation between Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) and Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) over Harris’ successful motion to limit amendments on the bill. 

Walle could be seen in a huddle of lawmakers telling Harris that the temporary rule was “f—ing bulls—.”

Harris often presides over the chamber as a close ally of Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).

The chamber rejected more than two dozen amendments brought by Democrats. HB 4 was the final bill considered before members adjourned early Thursday morning.

The House also approved Senate Bill 4, an item carried by Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) to create mandatory minimum sentences for human smuggling ranging from five years to 25 years in more severe cases. Affirmative defenses are contained in the bill that reduce the minimum sentence for smuggling close family members. Lawmakers approved the measure on third reading by a vote of 92 ayes to 54 nays.

Opponents of that last bill, including Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), expressed concern that it would not have a discernible effect on public safety but would result in young adults being needlessly incarcerated.

Moody called mandatory minimum sentencing a “disastrous policy” that has been “rejected up and down the political aisle.”

“These are the types of policies that if you blindly enact them will lead to grave injustices across the system,” Moody said.

Democrats also sought to amend the bill to carve out exceptions.

Rep. Josey Garcia (D-San Antonio) proposed an amendment that would have exempted defendants under 20 years of age from the mandatory minimum sentences.

“I am begging, appealing to all of you to accept my amendment allowing for an exemption when it comes to those under the age of 20,” Garcia said.

Guillen opposed the amendment, contending that someone old enough to join the military is also old enough to be held to the same criminal sanctions as any other adult.

“This amendment gives an arbitrary break to individuals under 20 years of age. We already have a reduction for family members in the bill and it’s important to point out that the bar to prosecute smuggling is already set high,” Guillen said.

The House rejected Garcia’s amendment by a vote of 61 ayes to 84 nays.

Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston), a former prosecutor, said the mandatory minimum could make it more difficult to secure convictions.

“I don’t know any prosecutors who have asked you to do this,” Johnson told members.

She added, “This doesn’t accomplish the goal you say you want, so please vote no on this legislation.”

Abbott called the third special session to pass school choice legislation, border security measures, and a ban on private COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post