Here’s What a New Border Bill Would Do to Texas

“Most dangerous” immigration bill ever takes the stage

The bill, filed just in time, would create a new state agency (Courtesy of Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Republicans moved forward with their promise to tackle their nebulous “border security” priority, filing a behemoth bill before the March 10 deadline.

House Bill 20 would create a border protection unit that would allow the state to enforce immigration laws that courts have previously ruled to be the responsibility of the federal government. For example, the border protection unit would have the ability to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally” throughout the state and return immigrants observed crossing the border illegally back to Mexico. To some extent, the bill is the logical next step for Republicans, who aim to build on the $4.6 billion spent on Operation Lone Star.

The bill got a stamp of approval from Speaker Dade Phelan, who included it in his list of priority bills. He tweeted that HB 20 and HB 7 “would bring accountability & efficiency to our state’s border operation by establishing the Border Protection Unit, a professional state agency to implement a mission-oriented, locally-based response to the crisis.” HB 20 has been referred to the House’s State Affairs Committee and is awaiting a hearing.

Bob Libal, who has been doing consulting work for Human Rights Watch around Operation Lone Star, said he sees the bill as an opportunity to “deputize border vigilantes” and take Operation Lone Star to the next level. “Essentially this bill would deputize border vigilantes, many of whom I think are likely to be motivated by anti-immigrant or racial animus, to enforce laws that target migrants, and that’s incredibly dangerous,” he said. “We’ve already seen militia members who’ve been invited to Kinney County and really disturbing cases of violence against migrants.”

On top of establishing a border protection unit, the bill would create a state version of Title 42 – the public health order that has allowed the U.S. to turn away over 2 million asylum seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic – and elevate trespassing charges to a felony and minimum fine of $10,000. Texas has used “trespassing” to justify its apprehension of migrants through Operation Lone Star. The Texas Civil Rights Project echoed Libal’s sentiment around the severity of HB 20, calling it “the most dangerous proposal on border issues that Texas immigration advocates have ever seen.”

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