DALLAS (NewsNation) — Amid an overwhelming migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, Texas lawmakers are considering a border security bill that would create a state unit of officers empowered to “repel” and arrest migrants illegally crossing the border and return them to Mexico.
House Bill 20, filed by Texas Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, would test the state’s ability to enforce immigration law. Courts have historically ruled this falls under federal purview.
HB20 would create a “Border Protection Unit,” which would allow empowered citizens to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally including with the use of non-deadly force.”
According to the bill, officers of the unit must be U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents or have law enforcement experience.
The bill also proposes to give officers in this unit immunity “from criminal and civil liability for any actions taken that are authorized” by the proposed law. It also would allow the unit to “use force” to detain cartel operations.
The bill would also allow the unit chief to employ civilians who have not been convicted of a felony “to participate in unit operations and functions, but such persons may not have arresting authority unless trained and specifically authorized by the governor.”
Supporters say this would ease the burden on Border Patrol as well as other state law enforcement who have been posted at the border for months.
“Having been a Border Patrol agent for 26 years, knowing what it takes to do this job, there’s no reason our state and local law enforcement can’t do it,” said Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland of Terrell County, Texas. “With a little bit of training, with the right authorities, they would have no problem executing that sort of law.”
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan praised Schaefer’s proposal, which was filed alongside other GOP-led bills intended to address the state’s border crisis.
Opponents say this is political posturing and don’t see it becoming reality.
“The problem is, you know, it becomes a little prejudicial and it’s very controversial,” said immigration attorney Jaime Barron. “And most likely it would not succeed as they are trying to take federal powers.”
Schaefer did not immediately respond to NewsNation’s request for comment.
However, he wrote in a Facebook post that this is “a bold new approach.”
In the fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, Border Patrol agents encountered a record-breaking 2.3 million migrants along the Southwest border.
Texas has its own border security program called Operation Lone Star, which over the past two years has apprehended more than 350,000 migrants who crossed the border illegally and seized more than 360 million lethal doses of fentanyl.