Texas Senate passes bill criminalizing illegal immigration

In its latest attempt to advance legislation criminalizing unlawful border crossings, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 4 and sent it to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the State Affairs Committee.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement late Thursday night after the Senate passed the bill.

“Earlier this week both the Senate and House border bill authors, Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. David Spiller, agreed on exact language and filed identical bills. I thought Sen. Perry did a remarkable job in explaining why this legislation is needed,” Patrick said.

“With the changes made and agreed to this week, once signed by the Governor, this bill will be, without question, the strongest stand that any state has taken to protect its citizens and its sovereignty. Our founders could never have imagined that any president would abdicate his constitutional duty to protect our borders and our citizens.”

Rep. David Spiller (R-Jacksboro) was the author of a bill that the House passed during the third special session that would have allowed law enforcement officers to escort illegal immigrants back to ports of entry in lieu of arrest and order them to leave; however, the Senate Border Security Committee removed that provision of the bill.

In the fourth special session, SB 4 appears to create a quasi-deportation process whereby state magistrates in some cases would order someone to leave the country instead of proceeding with prosecution on a charge of illegally crossing the border. Patrick noted in his statement that illegal immigrants would be “fingerprinted and have a background check” under the bill.

The Senate proceeded with SB 4 over the strong objection of Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), who carried Spiller’s bill in the last special session. Birdwell said that Patrick reassigned the bill to Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) because Birdwell’s view no longer aligned with the majority of his GOP colleagues.

Birdwell suggested that SB 4 violates the “vertical separation of powers between federal and state government” and infringes on the federal government’s authority over immigration enforcement granted in Article I, Section 8.

“There is no clause in the U.S. Constitution that says the wrong I believe we are about to commit allows us to step outside the bounds of our oath and the text of the Constitution,” Birdwell said on the floor. “The oath is not an administrative formality of holding office, as President Washington said, it is a sacred obligation.”

Birdwell said SB 4 is “decidedly outside the bounds” of the state’s constitutional role.

“President Biden’s failure to obey his oath does not compel us to violate ours; instead, it compels our federal representatives to constrain him, and for the electorate to remove him in the coming year,” Birdwell said.

Border security legislation has been one sore point among many between Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont). During the third special session, Patrick said Spiller’s bill was a “catch-and-release” policy before the Senate’s revision. Phelan countered that the Senate’s version would have resulted in too many illegal immigrants being incarcerated at taxpayers’ expense.

Also on Thursday night, the Senate again passed its $1.54 billion appropriation for border barrier projects.

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