AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas lawmakers on Thursday gave initial approval to legislation that would create a new state-level offense for illegally entering the state from a foreign nation and allow officers to order migrants to leave the country, effectively deporting them.
House Bill 4 would empower peace officers to “remove” a person detained for entering illegally by transporting them to a port of entry and “ordering the person to return” instead of arresting them. If the person refuses the order, they would be charged with a second-degree felony.
“The Biden Administration continues to ignore the repeated demands for aggressive prosecution of illegal entry offenses and refuses to protect border states against invasion,” the bill’s author David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, said in a statement. “This landmark bill allows Texans to protect Texas, to send illegal immigrants back, and to incarcerate those that refuse to leave.”
Local governments expressed concern of the burden that enforcing a new offense will have on their local law enforcement. Currently, prosecuting and arresting illegal immigrants is the sole responsibility of the federal government. El Paso County said they do not have the resources to take on the responsibility.
“We urge you to please reconsider the provisions of HB 4 and commission an interim study instead that will help us further understand the actual cost of these policies before we burden the local taxpayer,” a representative of El Paso County testified.
The county estimated the bill would result in an additional 8,000 arrests per year, equating to an extra administrative cost of $24 million per year. They would also fill their jails with state-level offenders, losing out on $14.5 million per year that the federal government pays to house federal inmates. That is in addition to an anticipated $162 million price tag for building more jail capacity.
Houston Democrat Ana Hernandez expressed concerns the bill would violate the Texas Constitution’s provision that detainees cannot be removed from the state while under arrest, in addition to various other constitutional questions concerning a state’s jurisdiction over federal immigration laws.
Spiller argued the bill directs law enforcement to “order” migrants across the border, not to transport them, skirting any constitutional concerns.
Laredo Democrat Richard Raymond argued the bill should instead require officers to attempt to deport suspected illegal immigrants, rather than providing them the option.
He argued that Texas jails are “a step up” for migrants compared to their current conditions, and the prospect of being arrested could actually attract people rather than deter them.
“Don’t offer to fatten them up and give them free food and healthcare,” Rep. Raymond said.
There is no evidence that any immigrants are seeking detention upon arrival or purposefully getting arrested for free food and healthcare.
The committee approved the legislation on Thursday afternoon, allowing it to proceed to a vote of the full House.