Bill to criminalize illegal immigration at the state level stalls in Texas Senate

The tortured working relationship between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) has imperiled another border security bill as a fourth special session becomes increasingly likely.

When the Texas Senate convened on Sunday, the chamber did not approve House Bill (HB) 4, which would criminalize illegal immigration at the state level and — before revision in a Senate committee — would have authorized law enforcement to escort illegal immigrants back to a port of entry instead of taking them into custody.

Patrick already indicated last Thursday that the Senate would not return HB 4 to the House unless Phelan agreed to the new version.

“Mr. Speaker, you have become nothing more than hot air. You can peddle your nonsense all day but the truth is your version of HB 4 does not require fingerprints or a background check of anyone detained. That means you don’t know who you are sending back to the port of entry,” Patrick wrote.

The lieutenant governor contended that terrorists and felons would be “more than happy” with the system created by the House version of the bill.

“Don’t worry, we fixed HB 4 to require anyone detained to be identified by fingerprints and background checked. If you agree to concur, we’ll send you the bill. If you insist on the dangerous policy of not properly identifying illegal border crossers before sending them back, you’re putting the lives of Texans and Americans at great risk,” Patrick wrote.

After the Senate declined to send HB 4 back to the House, Phelan said Patrick and the Senate are letting the “gears of political machinations” impede border security.

“This bill was a priority of Governor Abbott’s, and the House met that priority with decisive action. We did our part, and when the fourth called special session convenes, we will do so again. It is time for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to the people of Texas — we cannot afford to wait any longer,” Phelan said.

While the House and Senate agreed on a bill to set mandatory minimum sentences for human smuggling, the chambers have not acted on legislation to create a border protection force. Each chamber also passed their own bills to appropriate at least $1.5 billion for border barrier projects; the House’s version is sitting in the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate’s version is awaiting referral to a House committee.

Border security is not the only issue where the Republican-controlled Legislature is struggling to find common ground.

Patrick previously stated that if the Legislature cannot agree on a school choice plan by the end of the third special session on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott should call lawmakers back to Austin on February 5, 2024, exactly one month before the primary election.

In another jab at Phelan on Monday morning, Patrick said the fourth special session will be necessary because of “Dade Phelan’s failures.”

The House is currently “standing at ease” and is due back at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, while the Senate is scheduled to convene at 4:00 p.m. the same day.

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