Illegal Immigration Crackdown: Texas Legislators Aim To Increase Penalties

The Texas House’s Republican majority declared last week that passing a bill making illegal immigration a crime is one of its top priorities for this spring.

The “Border Protection Unit Act” would establish a specialized border protection police force and make illegal immigration a state felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Important Members Of The Majority Republican

It was introduced last week by state Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer and supported by important members of the majority-Republican Texas House of Representatives. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced in a press release on March 10 that passing the Border Protection Unit Act will be a top priority for the House.

“Addressing our state’s border and humanitarian crisis is a must-pass issue for the Texas House this year, and I thank Representatives Guillen and Schaefer for filing … [bills that] will lead to a safer Texas that overall reduces the cost to taxpayers,”

The act would authorize the new border protection unit to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally including with nondeadly force.” The governor-appointed unit chief could deputize civilians “to participate in unit operations and functions” if they had not been convicted of a felony.

State Rep. Ryan Guillen’s Border Safety Oversight Committee bill would oversee the new border protection unit and advise lawmakers on border policy.

The Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus immediately called Schaefer’s proposed legislation an “extreme vigilante death squads policy.”

“This dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional proposal which empowers border vigilantes to hunt migrants and racially profile Latinos is going to result in the death of innocent people,”

Schaefer responded in a tweet. You can take a look below:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in the spring of 2021 to secure the border. The initiative has spent billions of state dollars and sent thousands of public safety officers and National Guard soldiers to the Texas-Mexico border.

Schaefer’s bill must pass both houses of the Texas Legislature before May’s legislative session ends. Republicans control the Texas House and Senate, making border security policies possible. The Border Protection Unit Act takes effect immediately if two-thirds of both houses pass it. The bill will take effect on Sept. 1 without a two-thirds majority.

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In the Senate, Texas Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell introduced similar legislation making the illegal border crossing a state felony punishable by jail time. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the Texas Senate, supports Birdwell’s bill. Catholic Republican Abbott calls border security an “emergency item” for the 2023 Texas legislative session.

A Feb. 16 press release from Abbott’s office announced that he intends to work with the Legislature to “secure another $4.6 billion to bolster border security efforts” and to “pass legislation making it at least a 10-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone caught smuggling in Texas.”

In the fiscal year 2022, a record 2.76 million undocumented migrants crossed the border, causing concern among Republicans and some Democrats, including President Joe Biden. The Biden administration announced a new policy in February that will deny asylum to illegal immigrants on May 11. The most restrictive border policy of Biden’s tenure will last until May 11, 2025.

Dylan Corbett of the Catholic relief group Hope Border Institute told CNA that immigrants should be considered when setting immigration policy.

 Texas Legislators Aim To Increase Penalties

Border and immigration enforcement costs billions. We can reinvest some of those resources into a safe, efficient, welcoming border system that protects vulnerable migrants and our country.

“At this point, it is only a question of overcoming the political hurdles. Unfortunately, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle today only see the political cost of making progress on immigration, but they don’t realize that there is also a moral cost to shutting the door on the most vulnerable that is far more consequential,” Corbett said.

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