(The Center Square) – The Texas Senate passed two key border security bills in line with the priorities outlined in the call for the third special session by Gov. Greg Abbott.
SB 4, filed by Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, increases penalties for those convicted of human smuggling and using stash houses. It raises the minimum term of imprisonment for smuggling and continuous smuggling to 10 years. It also increases the minimum term of imprisonment to five years for the offense of operating a stash house, punishable as a third-degree felony or as a second-degree felony under certain conditions. It also increases penalties for committing these crimes during a disaster declaration.
Similar legislation was passed out of the House and Senate as HB 800 during the regular session. After a point of order was filed by a House Democrat over differing versions of the bill, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, accepted it and the bill died.
The senate passed SB 4 with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 29-2.
After it passed, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “Texans are tired of the Biden Administration’s abdication of their constitutional responsibility to enforce the southern border. As the Administration’s lack of action endangers Texans and all Americans, the passage of SB 4 will support Texas’ historic efforts to secure the border and maintain public safety.
“The Texas Senate has been working diligently to address the priorities of Texans. This is now the third time the Texas Senate has passed this bill. The Texas Senate will pass this bill over and over again until it passes the Texas House.”
The Senate also passed SB 11, filed by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, which authorizes the state to enforce border security. It creates a new state crime for entering Texas illegally and authorizes Texas law enforcement officers to arrest illegal border crossers who enter Texas between ports of entry. It also creates penalties, including up to one year in jail for a first-time offender, two years in state jail for a second-time offender, and up to life in prison for convicted felons with multiple illegal entries.
The Senate passed the bill for a third time, having done so during the regular legislative session and the first special session. The bill went nowhere in the House.
Birdwell pointed out that Texas reached a record number of apprehensions of illegal border crossers in fiscal 2023 of over 1.84 million. “As a result of the federal government’s unwillingness to enforce federal immigration laws and secure our southern border, the state of Texas has stepped up and devoted time and resources to combat the unprecedented border crisis that the state is facing,” he said in a statement. He also said SB 4 was a “crucial step towards protecting the lives of innocent individuals, dismantling smuggling operations, and ensuring those who profit from such activities face appropriate consequences.”
Patrick said the measure is necessary because the federal government has abdicated responsibility for border security.
“Texas must take matters into our own hands because the crisis on our southern border, perpetuated by the Biden Administration, continues to rage,” he said. ‘The Texas Senate has appropriated billions of Texas taxpayer dollars to step into the breach created by [President Joe] Biden, [Vice President Kamala] Harris, and [DHS Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas. Creating a state crime for illegal border crossings will give our troopers more authority to control the border and keep Texans safe.
“This is the 3rd time the Texas Senate has passed this critical legislation. The Senate is committed to securing the southern border and will pass this bill over and over again until it passes the Texas House, where it has died previously.”
Both bills have been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.