Texas GOP Still Set on Sending Vigilantes to the Border

Frightening border bills haven't passed yet, but might in special session

Image by Zeke Barbaro / Getty Images

From Gov. Greg Abbott's multibillion-dollar Operation Lone Star to explicit recommendations from the Attorney General's Office, Texas leaders made clear in the lead-up to the 88th legislative session their hopes of wresting control of immigration enforcement away from the federal government. While Republicans largely failed to achieve those goals, Abbott called for an immediate special session to address border security, specifically focusing on criminal penalties for "the smuggling of persons or the operation of a stash house."

House Bill 7, the wide-ranging border security bill, included a state-run "Border Protection Unit" that would have power to "deter and repel persons attempting to enter this state unlawfully at locations other than ports of entry." The Texas Tribune reported that the bill failed after the Senate tried to add harsher penalties for immigration-related offenses, including mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years for human smuggling, and making it a crime for migrants to cross the border into Texas anywhere but at a point of entry.

Roberto Lopez, senior advocacy manager with the Texas Civil Rights Project's Beyond Borders team, summed the session up simply: "I think it was quite horrible." Despite HB 7 failing, the Legislature passed $5 billion for border security initiatives and continued to push rhetoric around migrants invading the border, he added. He's concerned about criminal penalties for smuggling, as the language was so broad in previous bills that it might have applied to a friend driving an undocumented student to ­college. He also worries that aspects of HB 7, such as a border policing ­operation and improper entry offenses, could resurface in special sessions. "There's a really good chance that we're gonna see some really bad legislation continue to get passed into the summer."

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