TX Senate Committee Advances Immigration Bill

Texas Capitol building | Image by Roschetzky Photography

The Texas Senate Committee on Border Security voted on Wednesday to advance a bill that allows law enforcement officers to arrest anyone suspected of being an unlawful migrant. Still, one significant change was made to the bill prior to being passed.

House Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), would allow law enforcement officers to arrest a suspected unlawful migrant at “any time” and anywhere in the state after they entered.

The unlawful migrant would then face a Class B misdemeanor if this were the first incident or a felony charge if they have been previously charged with a crime.

While the bill was passed, the Senate panel also made significant changes by removing language that allowed law enforcement officers to bring the suspected unlawful migrant back through the port of entry to the foreign country from which they entered, according to The Austin American-Statesman.

Instead, the officer will hand over the unlawful migrant to federal authorities, who will then handle any future deportation that might be necessary.

This change follows concerns from some, such as Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), that the bill allows law enforcement officers to serve as “judge, jury and executioner” when acting on the bill, per KERA News.

Birdwell, who is also the chair of the Senate panel, said the updated bill would reduce the likelihood the U.S. government would raise concerns about a violation of federal law.

“By making this change it ensures that, again, as I mentioned in the opening, that we do not violate the 10th Amendment in taking an action that is an immigration enforcement action that rightfully belongs to the federal government,” he said, per the Statesman.

Rep. David Spiller (R-Jacksboro), who sponsored the House version of the bill, said in a statement that the bill remains “a work in progress,” but he would prefer the removed portion be added back.

“Texans must protect Texas — especially when the Biden administration fails and refuses to do so,” he added, per The Dallas Morning News.

Despite being advanced and receiving support from multiple lawmakers, many have expressed concerns about the bill.

James Montoya, a former district attorney candidate in El Paso, said the bill increases the likelihood of potential discrimination.

“If HB4 is allowed to go into effect, it is a virtual certainty that Hispanic U.S. citizens will be swept up in any enforcement action and deported, which raises significant due process and equal protection concerns and creates another constitutional infirmity,” he said, according to El Paso Matters. 

“HB4 cannot and should not be enforced by state actors until its constitutionality is definitively ruled upon.”

Ryan Urrutia, a candidate for El Paso sheriff, voiced similar concerns about the bill and said it could also cause issues for taxpayers due to the strain from additional arrests.

“We could see high numbers of arrests occur and that affects the capacity of our jails and us being able to earn revenue off federal inmates who we could no longer house,” said Urrutia to El Paso Matter. 

“That would cause a ripple effect to our local taxpayers.”

While it is still unclear whether the full Senate will pass the legislation, Birdwell expects HB4 to be addressed as early as November 5, according to the Statesman.

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