AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Texas are proposing legislation that would make it a state felony to cross the border from Mexico illegally and create a new border police force that could deputize private citizens, the latest in the state’s continued push to test the limits of the federal government’s authority over immigration.
Civil rights organizations, immigration advocates and Democrats immediately decried the proposals, which began drawing attention after Friday’s deadline for filing bills in Texas’ ongoing biennial legislative session.
“I think the underlying fact that it is going to allow people to question our being American in our border communities and across Texas is unacceptable,” said Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, chairwoman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
Since President Joe Biden took office, illegal crossings have soared. Many migrants have turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents and were released in the U.S. to pursue their cases in federal immigration court.
The Republican proposals in the Texas Legislature would continue pushing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s massive, $4 billion border mission known as Operation Lone Star. That has included the governor heavily increasing patrols near the border with Mexico, gridlocking traffic with increased commercial truck inspections, and building more barriers along the international boundary, echoing former President Donald Trump’s unfished campaign promise.
The effort also has included directing officers to detain migrants who trespass on private property and bused thousands of migrants to Democrat-led cities, including New York and Washington, D.C. The moves have put a spotlight on Abbott, who aides say is weighing a run for president.
Bills filed this session would allow a newly created unit of state police to arrest, detain and deter people crossing into Texas illegally, construct more and maintain existing barriers between Texas and Mexico and return immigrants to Mexico if they are seen crossing into Texas.
State border officers would serve at the direction of a chief, who would be appointed by the governor. According to a draft bill, which will have to pass reviews by both of the state’s Republican-controlled legislative chambers before the end of May, the chief will be able to employ licensed state and local police officers to serve on the border force, as well as “law-abiding citizens” without felony convictions.
Private citizens employed by the force would be allowed to participate in “unit operations and functions” and have the same criminal and civil liability immunity …read more