Texas lawmakers vote to allow local police to arrest immigrants | ET REALITY


In a direct challenge to federal power over immigration, the Texas House on Thursday approved creating a state-level crime for entering the country from Mexico between ports of entry, allowing local law enforcement agencies to arrest and jail unauthorized immigrants. authorized or order them to return to their country. Mexico.

The legislation had been requested by Gov. Greg Abbott in what would be a sharp escalation of his multibillion-dollar border security program, known as Operation Lone Star. The Texas House also approved an additional $1.5 billion for the state to use to build its own barriers near the international border.

The arrest measure now returns to the Senate, which has already passed its own version, and then heads to Abbott’s desk for his signature.

“It’s a humane, logical and efficient approach,” said Rep. David Spiller, a Republican from west Fort Worth, introducing his arrest bill before the vote. “There is nothing unfair about ordering someone to return from their place of origin if they came here illegally.”

Emotions ran high during hours of arguments and motions in the House of Representatives that stretched through the night and into Thursday morning, with Democrats objecting to what they said would be a new criminal law enforcement regime that could end up inadvertently targeting Texas Hispanics. At one point, tempers flared when Republicans moved to stop amendments to the bill.

“My community is being attacked,” said one Latino representative, Armando Walle, D-Houston. he told his Republican colleagues. “You all don’t understand,” she said. “It hurts us personally.”

For more than two years, Abbott and Republican lawmakers have been testing the limits of the state’s power to implement their own aggressive law enforcement policies in response to the growing number of migrants crossing into the state from Mexico.

But the creation of a criminal offense under state law — empowering Texas agents to arrest immigrants, including those seeking asylum — went a step further in an area of ​​immigration enforcement normally reserved for the federal government.

The legislative measure is likely to set up a major court fight over immigration and, for opponents of President Biden’s immigration policies, create an opportunity to revisit a 2012 Supreme Court case, originating in Arizona, that was decided 5 to 3 in favor of the federal government. leading role of the government in establishing immigration policy.

“The central question is whether states can criminalize violating federal immigration law and detain an alien for violating that law,” said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston. , who has written that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of the Arizona decision, I leave the question open of arrests.

Other legal experts considered that the Supreme Court’s decision clearly preempted state laws such as the one advanced in Texas.

“What Texas is doing is taking over from Arizona,” said Daniel Morales, a law professor at the University of Houston. “This is a complete relitigation of the issues that arose and were resolved in that case.”

Texas state police officials have already discussed how they would use the new law to detain migrants caught crossing the Rio Grande, take them back to international bridges and order them to cross into Mexico, or else they will be arrested and accused.

During a House committee hearing on the legislation, Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said large new jail facilities would not be needed to handle large numbers of arrests if most people They will accept to return to the other side of the border. . The more immigrants brought to the bridges who are “willing to cross voluntarily, the better,” McCraw said.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that arresting migrants for the state crime could have the effect of separating children from their parents, as occurred during the Trump administration, when federal border agents strictly enforced federal law prohibiting unauthorized entry. authorized. McCraw said his state police would not make such arrests.

“We don’t want to separate the mother from the child,” McCraw said during the committee hearing.

Constitutional law experts said the legislation raised several potential conflicts with federal law and policymaking.

“How can the State take people who are not from Mexico, but who have passed through Mexico, and order them to go to Mexico?” said Gerald Neuman, a law professor at Harvard University. “Texas cannot force Mexico to take in people it has not agreed to take back.”

And, he added, states are not recognized as having the power to order people to leave the country.

The legislation provides no exceptions for those arriving between ports of entry and intending to submit asylum claims to the federal government, an option enshrined in federal law.

“The asylum issue is complicated,” Blackman said. “It’s a problem.”

It was unclear how the legislation would affect existing coordination between Texas law enforcement officials and the U.S. Border Patrol. A large number of migrants crossing into Texas seek to immediately surrender to federal border agents to file asylum claims.

Until recently, if state agents found them first, they typically alerted U.S. agents and turned them over for federal processing.

But in recent months, members of the Texas National Guard and state police officers have taken a more aggressive approach toward migrants trying to cross the Rio Grande, placing barbed wire along the riverbank and, in some cases, yelling at them to return to Mexico.

And tensions have risen between state and federal officials over the placement of buoys in the river and concertina wire, which some federal border agents have cut to help migrants struggling in the river. On Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration over agents’ wire cutting, saying the practice damaged Texas property and harmed the state’s effort to deter migrants.

New legislation authorizing arrests promises to up the ante even further.

“This will create new tensions,” said Aron Thorn, senior attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The Texas House bill, known as HB 4approved in the early hours of Thursday after Democrats repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to defeat or amend it.

While the legislation passed in the House differed in some details from a similar bill passed this month by the state Senate, both create the crime at the state level, allowing the arrest of immigrants who cross between points of entry. Both chambers of the Legislature were expected to pass a final version of the bill this week.

Under the legislation, immigrants believed to have crossed illegally could be arrested even hundreds of miles from the border by local or state police officers.

“Not just DPS,” Walle, the Houston lawmaker, said in a phone interview before the debate, referring to the Texas Department of Public Safety. “Not just at the border. “Now they are going to cripple local law enforcement agencies across the state.”

He added that “it’s scary for communities” who would otherwise want to work with authorities.

Since 2021, state police have been arresting some immigrants found on private land on trespassing charges as part of Operation Lone Star.

The arrests, which originally focused exclusively on men, have been challenged by immigration and civil rights groups. When the program began, arrests overwhelmed local jails. Since then, the state has dedicated space in certain state prisons to house immigrants facing trespassing charges.

Many of those immigrants were eventually deported, Thorn said, although some spent months in prison after being arrested for misdemeanor trespassing charges.

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