State Senator Brian Birdwell, a Republican from Granbury, has incorporated two of his stalled bills into a larger border-related legislation aimed at enhancing immigration enforcement. The Texas Senate committee expanded House Bill 7 to include provisions for a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for human smugglers and to criminalize the entry of migrants anywhere except through a designated port of entry. The bill, which seeks to create a state border police unit and allocate $100 million for border communities’ infrastructure and development, represents Republicans’ evolving approach to immigration and their efforts to address the surge of border crossings in Texas. The revised bill was approved by the committee with a 3-2 vote, with all Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Previously, House Democrats blocked a similar bill, House Bill 20, which proposed the establishment of a state border police unit with civilian officers. Critics argued that it was an unconstitutional overreach and would enable unlicensed individuals to act as vigilantes. However, House Republicans salvaged portions of the bill by incorporating them into House Bill 7, authored by Representative Ryan Guillen, a Republican from Rio Grande City. The revised bill required officers in the unit to be licensed peace officers and limited their activities to border communities with approval from county commissioners.
Senator Birdwell, who chairs the Senate’s Committee on Border Security, reintroduced provisions from his stalled bills, Senate Bill 2424 and Senate Bill 600, into House Bill 7. These provisions address the regulation of ports of entry and the implementation of a mandatory minimum sentence for human smuggling. Opponents of the bill expressed concerns that the criminalization of unauthorized entry would deny potential asylum-seekers the opportunity to provide a legal defense and that the strict sentencing for human smuggling could disproportionately affect young, disadvantaged US citizens coerced by drug cartels. Birdwell’s version of the bill removed a provision that limited the border unit’s authority to areas approved by local officials, granting the new state border police unit jurisdiction throughout the state.
Under the revised bill, the border unit, called the Texas Border Force, would operate under the Department of Public Safety and be led by the chief of the Texas Rangers division. The bill allows for the employment of former US Border Patrol agents and Texas Military Department troops as contractors, with troops earning retirement credits for their service with the border unit. The bill also codifies certain aspects of Operation Lone Star, such as intelligence gathering and analysis by the border unit and the governor’s authority to enter agreements with Mexico and its states.
Opponents raised concerns about the constitutionality of the bill, arguing that states cannot create or enforce immigration laws as that falls under federal jurisdiction. Birdwell maintained that the bill establishes a state crime for enforcement by the new police unit, with individuals suspected of non-criminal immigration violations being handed over to federal authorities. Critics view the bill as an attempt to challenge the limits on a state’s authority to enforce immigration law, as established by a US Supreme Court ruling.
Senator Birdwell communicated the changes made to House Bill 7 to Representative Guillen, anticipating that the differences between the two chambers would need to be resolved in a conference committee.