(By Bethany Blankley/The Center Square) – The Texas House passed Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority border security legislation on Tuesday in the fourth special legislative session called this year.
They voted to approve allocating an additional $1.54 billion for border wall construction and to create unprecedented restrictions and penalties to deter illegal entry into Texas, including making illegal entry a crime.
Abbott praised the bills’ passage saying he would sign them.
The Texas Senate previously passed the bills in the third special legislative session and again last week. In the third legislative session, the bills failed to pass the House.
The House passed SB 3/HB 3 to allocate an additional $1.54 billion to fund border security operations, including continuing to build the border wall, extend marine barriers, and other border structures. Companion bills were filed by two Houston area lawmakers, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond.
“The state of Texas has stepped up to protect Texans,” Huffman said in a statement. “We’ve invested billions of state taxpayer funds for manpower, barriers, and technology to deter illegal immigration in our state. Operation Lone Star continues to fill the dangerous gaps created by the Biden administration’s refusal to secure the border. Every dangerous individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation without our state’s efforts. This bill provides critical funding for our law enforcement to continue our efforts.”
“While the federal government fails to keep drug cartels, human traffickers, convicted criminals, and dangerous drugs like fentanyl out of our country, Texas will continue to step up to ensure the safety of our communities,” Jetton said.
The House passed the bill by a vote of 84-59. It states it is subject to the provisions of Article III, Section 49a, of the Texas Constitution.
It also includes $40 million to reimburse Texas Department of Public Safety officers for overtime and other costs associated with operations north of Houston in the Colony Ridge neighborhood. The funding allocation doesn’t relate specifically to the language on the governor’s third or fourth special legislative call. After hearings held in the House and Senate, it became clear to lawmakers that the characterization of the community was inaccurate, as The Center Square first reported.
The hearings’ findings were consistent with lawmakers’ previous assessments of the development, saying some media reports hadn’t given “the full picture.” And after residents and a DPS officer reiterated that, “The media narrative that this area is an illegal alien colony and everyone is working with the cartels is totally false.”
The House also passed SB 4, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, which was carried by Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, in the House. The bill, which makes illegal entry into Texas from a foreign nation a crime, passed the Senate in the third special session but failed to pass the House. A bone of contention over enforcement provisions resulted in the sparring of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan.
Late Tuesday night it passed by a vote of 83-61.
SB 4 creates new offenses for illegal entry and illegal reentry into Texas and allows judges and magistrates to order certain foreign nationals to return to the foreign nation from which they entered in lieu of prosecution or adjudication. It also establishes provisions related to immunity for and the indemnification of government officials, employees, and contractors for actions taken to enforce the law.
“A person who was an alien, as defined by federal law, would commit a class B misdemeanor (up to 180 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,000) if the person entered or attempted to enter the state from a foreign nation at any location other than a lawful port of entry. The offense would be a state-jail felony (180 days to two years in a state jail and an optional fine of up to $10,000) if the defendant had been previously convicted of illegal entry from a foreign nation,” according to the bill analysis.
The new offense of illegal reentry would be a third-degree felony carrying a penalty of two to 10 years in prison and an optional fine of up to $10,000. The sentencing and penalty varies if “the defendant’s removal came after a conviction for the commission of two or more misdemeanors involving drugs, crimes against a person, … or the defendant was excluded or removed pursuant to federal immigration law.
The new offense of illegal reentry would be a second-degree felony carrying a penalty of two to 20 years in prison and an optional fine of up to $10,000 if the defendant was removed after a conviction for the commission of a felony.
Other provisions relate to judicial orders to return to a foreign nation, restrictions on where people may be arrested, including in schools, religious institutions, healthcare facilities, among others, and stipulates liability and indemnification terms.
No funding was allocated to support the mandates of the bill. According to the analysis, “creating a new offense also could result in additional demands upon state correctional resources due to a possible increase in the number of individuals sentenced to a term of confinement.”
Phelan said the bill is “the strongest border security legislation ever passed by the Texas House.”
Lt. Gov. Patrick said he was “pleased to see the Texas House and Senate work together to send such a strong border security bill to Gov. Abbott’s desk,” adding that it is the strongest border security bill Texas has ever passed.”