Texas Lawmakers Debate Border Security


Border Security Panel | Image by Karin Dyer/The Dallas Express

AUSTIN– A bipartisan panel of Texas legislators wrestled with issues concerning the Southern border and Texas’ relationship with the federal government on Tuesday.

Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), and Rep. Eddie Morales Jr. (D-Eagle Pass) shared their thoughts and perspectives on the issue at the 88th Session Kickoff hosted by The Texan on January 24.

Sen. Flores, the recently appointed vice chair on the Senate Committee on Border Security, represented the Republican perspective on the panel.

“Maintaining the rule of law is a compassionate way of doing things,” Flores opened. He emphasized that “there is a right way of doing things, and a wrong way,” noting how his family members had attained papers.

However, with any proposed solution to the problems he said were plaguing the Southern border, the senator warned, “we are going to be the country that will be judged by God for how we treat people.”

Looking to Washington, D.C., he said, “We must insist that the federal government meet its constitutional requirement to protect our southern borders … we need to enforce our Texas state law with everything we have.”

Flores suggested that “we must uphold the rule of law” against criminals who are knowingly and intentionally flouting it, but also ensure that those migrants who are children are taken care of.

“I saw it first hand, our communities are suffering,” he continued. “We have to make sure we are committed to maintaining the integrity of our communities.”

With the potential upcoming expiration of Title 42, Flores said, “We have to do what the federal government won’t do … we are committed to holding the line.”

He urged Mexico to enforce its own immigration laws.

“Their southern border is a lot shorter than ours,” the senator quipped.

Canales, a Democrat from the border region, stressed the idea that Democrats from the region also want increased border security.

“I think that you can prioritize public safety because that is compassion to the people you represent,” Canales said, “but I also think we can treat people that are immigrating with compassion as well.”

“Republicans and Democrats have failed miserably to solve this problem from Texas to Washington,” he complained.

Canales noted that drugs such as fentanyl are not coming in over the Rio Grande but through ports of entry. As such, he suggested that the solution would be to improve the infrastructure in order to provide better security.

“I’m raising five children near the border, there is no one who cares about security more than I do,” he asserted, but “we have to make sure we are actually securing the border instead of creating nonsense.”

He suggested that ultimately, “You’re not going to stop it with a fence or by throwing a bunch of money at it.”

“I want safety and I want to be a good steward,” Canales said.

Canales also highlighted a bill that he had previously tried to pass to create a criminal statute to prosecute someone who assaults a border guard. He explained that “it died in a Republican-run legislature.”

Morales also joined the panel as the representative for the area around Eagle Pass, which recently witnessed a massive surge of unlawful migration.

The representative has been vocal about his plans to increase border security, outlining his thoughts in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott last year.

Morales echoed many of the letter’s themes on the panel, suggesting, “We haven’t addressed the core issue, and we will never get to compassion till we address that.”

Morales identified a key problem as “incentiviz[ing] cartels and those smuggling people across the border and giving those people papers immediately.”

“We can do it in a compassionate way that also takes into account public safety,” Morales suggested of border enforcement.

Echoing some of the points Sen. Flores made, Morales said, “It’s not fair and there’s no equality when people do it the right way and still have to wait years [for] an answer while others are able to cross the river and get papers immediately.”

Morales also urged for infrastructure revitalization as a contributing factor to increasing border safety.

“We can do that while supporting law enforcement, securing our border, and growing our economy,” he suggested.

“Our immigration system is 30 to 40 years outdated. … The reason we are in this position is because of Congress. … Congress has failed us for 30 to 40 years,” Morales continued, “while it is costing you, me, and every one of us billions of dollars.”

“We need to lead and not wait for Washington to do something on it … and take the incentive away from the cartels,” the representative urged. “We are not for open borders; we want to address this issue.”

In explaining some of his proposed legislation for dealing with migrants, Morales affirmed that he sought to make sure “they are paying into the system instead of just taking from the system.”

Morales suggested creating a process where migrants pay an application fee and receive trackable RFID cards, prohibitions on receiving taxpayer services, and clauses for repatriation if certain crimes are committed.

Sen. Flores, taking the last word, said, “We want the same goals and have to work together, sometimes the making of the sausage is not pretty … but we all want to create a Texas that is safe and prosperous.”

As the 88th session of the Texas legislature gets underway, several bills have been filed to address the border crisis.

Sen. Bob Hall (R-Rockwall) has filed a bill that would permit an “interstate compact for border security” pending approval of the Federal congress.

The hypothetical compact would include “provide for joint action” to promote “the total detection and apprehension or deflection of illegal aliens attempting to cross the border into this state.”

Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Greenville) has proposed legislation to increase funding for border security in order to specifically prevent “human trafficking” and “illegal entry into the United States.”

Furthermore, the fund would pay for the “planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining” of a southern border wall to be named the “President Donald J. Trump Wall.”

The debate on how Texas can react to issues along the border and how the state’s plan might interact with the Federal government’s ideas will undoubtedly continue throughout the legislative session.

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