EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Texas lawmakers on Thursday considered strict immigration-related legislation that would allow peace officers to send migrants who enter the state illegally back across the border.
The Texas House State Affairs Committee held a day-long public hearing on two measures, including HB 4, which would create new state criminal charges for migrants who enter Texas illegally.
They also considered a proposed resolution, HCR 1, calling for an investigation into the Colony Ridge subdivision, east of Houston, where Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton alleged in a letter to federal officials on Thursday that the subdivision is full of undocumented migrants, as well as drug traffickers and rampant with violent crime.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called lawmakers back to Austin for a third Special Session this year.
The Special Session began Oct. 9 and lawmakers were at first preoccupied with measures dealing with school vouchers and education. But Abbott also has put border security, Colony Ridge, and ending COVID-19 restrictions on this special session for the 88th Legislature.
The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday afternoon passed HB4 out of committee, by a vote of eight to three, without any changes But the measure still must be scheduled for a full House vote.
The vote came after hours of testimony by local leaders, state officials, migrant advocates and citizens.
HB4 was proposed by Republican state Rep. David Spiller, who represents several counties near the Oklahoma state line north of Dallas, and he testified that the measure would allow law enforcement the option to take migrants to the border and deposit them at the ports of entry. Also, first-time offenders would be given the option to comply.
But if they don’t, they face charges and possible jail time. This ranges from six months to 20 years depending if they have other outstanding charges or are repeat offenders.
“We have a crisis at our southern border that includes terrorists,” Spiller told the committee. “Texans know the Biden administration has failed to enforce our borders.”
“It’s a landmark bill that allows Texans to protect Texans and to send illegal aliens back,” he said. “Our cries for help and enforcement of immigration laws have been ignored by President Biden. We’ve had enough.”
The measure is similar to SB11, which passed the Senate on Oct. 12, but still needs a final vote.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, voted against SB11. On Thursday he told Border Report that he doesn’t believe SB11 or HB4 are constitutional.
“I don’t think either one of them is constitutional. Federal law preempts state law. And I’m certain that the state is looking for a way to challenge part of the authority of the federal government and preempt state law because of the immigration challenges we face along the border,” Hinojosa said from his Edinburg law office.
Hinojosa is vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He said that in the past 11 months, 1.1 million migrants have crossed into Texas from Mexico from Brownsville to El Paso.
If they were all to be incarcerated — at a cost of $77 per day — he said it would cost the state up to $2 billion for a biennium, or two-year period.
“We don’t have the capacity to incarcerate so many people,” Hinojosa said.
He added that law enforcement “would be profiling” and that would put “many of our community at risk.”
He said Mexico also has not agreed to take back migrants, many whom aren’t Mexican nationals.
“What if Mexico refuses to take people from Venezuela, El Salvador, South America, people from Africa or Asia? It’s a big issue. What happens then? We go and arrest them?” he said.
The State Affairs Committee also voted Thursday to pass SB4, a Senate measure that would increase the jail time for those who smuggle migrants or store them in stash houses or other unsafe conditions.
The bill needs to be scheduled for a vote of the full House.
No vote was taken Thursday on HCR 1, the resolution proposed regarding an investigation into Colony Ridge, and at one point during Thursday’s hearing, state Rep. Jay Dean, a Republican from Longview, said “Why are we even here doing this?”
Over 50,000 people live in Colony Ridge, Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader testified.
“As far as I can find out. there have been no cartel arrests for crimes in Liberty County in the past three years,” Rader said.
Paxton’s letter — sent to 25 members of Congress and top state officials — said “The scale of the Colony Ridge development has proved unmanageable for effective law enforcement and other key standards of acceptable governance. Violent crime, drug trafficking, environmental deterioration, public disturbances, infrastructure overuse, and other problems have plagued the area and nearby towns.”
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testified “there is not a community in Texas not impacted by Mexican cartels, and gangs.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.