(The Center Square) – Several statehouse lawmakers have filed sweeping measures to enhance Texas border security, which House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, now says the House will prioritize.
They filed the bills ahead of roughly 1,000 foreign nationals, primarily from Venezuela, rushing the Paso Del Norte bridge in Mexico attempting to enter El Paso, Texas, on Sunday.
Fox News published videos of a “massive group of at least 1,000” people “pushing past the Mexican side of Paso Del Norte bridge.” It also showed Mexican military lined on one side of the bridge and “physical barriers, barbed wire, and a skirmish line of Customs and Border Patrol officers in crowd control gear” on the American side.
Those in the group claimed they were rushing the bridge because a new phone app launched by the Biden administration wasn’t allowing them to have easier and quicker access into the U.S. and they claimed a Facebook post said they’d be allowed into the U.S. through that bridge on Sunday.
On Monday, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, pointed to their actions, saying, “The crisis happening at our border can’t be overstated.” As Washington, D.C. officials continue “to do nothing,” he said, “The message is clear, Texans: We are on our own.”
He also said Texans “want solutions for securing our border,” which he said the Texas House has proposed and will act on this legislative session.
Phelan, who’s come under fire by the Texas GOP and others for not appearing to prioritize border security, announced key border security measures he said the House will prioritize.
Among them is HB 1600 filed by Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant, that would create a new state penalty for foreign nationals who enter Texas illegally between ports of entry. Currently, those apprehended illegally entering Texas between ports of entry are turned over to Border Patrol agents for violating federal immigration law.
However, some arrested by state and local law enforcement for committing state crimes, including criminal trespass and human and drug smuggling and trafficking, are charged through the state criminal system and detained in state or county facilities depending on the offense.
HB 20, filed by Rep. Matt Schaeffer, R-Tyler, House Democrats have already vowed to fight. It would create a Border Protection Unit housed within the Texas Department of Public Safety and prioritize recruiting individuals who are residents in border communities or have significant experience in border communities to enforce border security measures and state law. The unit would be headquartered in a border community and led by a chief appointed by the governor.
Rep. Ryan Guillen, a former Democrat turned Republican from Rio Grande City in the border county of Starr, filed HB 7 to establish a Legislative Border Safety Oversight Committee to oversee the BPU and provide recommendations on state border safety policies. The 10-member committee would be comprised of the lieutenant governor, House Speaker, four senators and four representatives.
HB 7 also would create a new Regional Border Protection Court Program to adjudicate border-related legal matters, create multiple new grant programs to fund higher education institutions and local governments in Texas border communities, and create a reimbursement process for Texas residents to file property damages caused by illegal foreign nationals.
The Texas Democratic Caucus tweeted its opposition to HB 20, arguing it’s “a tinderbox waiting to explode that will leave this session in flames. And House Republicans have been warned.”
Chairs of the Texas Legislative Study Group, Texas House Democrats, Texas Black Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus released a joint statement saying they would fight HB 20, arguing it’s “dangerous” and “misguided” and would create “a state ‘Show Me Your Papers’ police force under the Governor.”
Guillen also filed HB 800 to increase mandatory minimum sentences for human smuggling-related charges, including a minimum of 10 years in prison for those convicted of human smuggling and five years in prison for those convicted of running stash houses, which are often used to facilitate human and drug smuggling and trafficking. It would also allow individuals to be charged with a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for additional offenses committed.
Other border-related bills Phelan prioritized include increasing penalties for fentanyl-related crimes and improving benefits for Texas military service members.
HB 6, filed by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, would increase the penalty for manufacturing or delivering less than one gram of fentanyl to a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
HB 90 filed by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, would improves worker’s compensation and death benefits for Texas military forces on state active duty including serving on the Border through Operation Lone Star. It would give them the same benefits they’d receive if they were killed in the line of duty overseas. Its named after Bishop Evans, a Texas Army National Guard Specialist from Arlington who, after serving in Iraq and Kuwait, signed up to serve in Texas and drowned last April saving the lives of drug smugglers who’d entered Texas illegally from Mexico.
This article First appeared in the center square