McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Texas Senate Committee on Border Security passed three controversial border security bills during a special session on Tuesday, but with the Texas House adjourned, it’s unlikely the bills will become law any time soon.
During a nearly two-hour hearing Tuesday, the five-member Republican-led committee passed three bills for the full Senate for consideration:
- SB 5 would create a mandatory imprisonment of 10 years for arrests relating to human smuggling and operating stash houses.
- SB 8 would create a “Texas Border Force,” which would operate under the Texas Rangers and work with Texas DPS troopers and Texas National Guard. The unit of peace keepers would be stationed on the border from Brownsville to El Paso and would put up razor wire and high-tech surveillance equipment. The unit also would operate surveillance checkpoints.
- SB 2 would make it a state criminal offense to illegally enter Texas from Mexico in between U.S. ports of entry, and violators would face criminal trespass charges.
The committee also heard HB 2, which is similar to SB 5, but did not vote on it after members raised concerns regarding a provision that would have dropped the minimum sentence to five years for defendants who are related to the person being smuggled.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, worried families would be unfairly targeted, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I want to make sure that a family member driving someone to the doctor’s isn’t considered a smuggler,” Hinojosa said.
Committee Chairman Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said HB 2 had “significant challenges” and he refused to support it.
The bill was left pending to work on a committee substitute. But since the bill originated in the Texas House, and the House has adjourned, even if a substitute bill passed the committee and the full Senate, there would be no House to consider it.
Because the House is not in session, any House bill modified and passed by the full Senate would need to return to the House for approval. And that won’t happen any time soon as long as House lawmakers have recessed.
Nevertheless, Hinojosa made clear his disdain for creating a Texas Border Force and adding criminal trespass charges for those who cross the border illegally.
“It would create chaos along the border. That’s just my opinion of what I’ve seen. I live on the border. I was raised on the border. My family is on the border. So I pretty much have a good sense of what is doable and workable, and what is maybe not,” Hinojosa said.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said the Texas Border Force would not set up checkpoints in urban areas. However, Hinojosa asked if Anzalduas Park, in Mission, Texas, would be a likely location.
McCraw said it would be, as migrants regularly come across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico, at that point.
Another worry of Hinojosa was whether families would be targeted and charged with criminal trespass.
But McCraw said migrant families who turn themselves in would be turned over to U.S. Border Patrol — as happens now — and they would be given credible fear screenings to determine if they were eligible for humanitarian parole. McCraw said the point of this bill is not to go after families, but to target human smugglers and adult individuals who knowingly cross the border illegally.
Hinojosa commented that “Our jails are overcrowded with many counties on the border are having to lease other facilities just to house the number of inmates in custody who are U.S. citizens.”
McCraw agreed that jails along the border were full, but said arrests would be “discretionary” to avoid facilities maxing out.
The full Senate was scheduled to meet in the First Called Special Session starting at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday.