House Border Bill Would Tread on Fed Turf
with Citizen Volunteers with Legal Immunity
March 12, 2023
The bipartisan lovefest crashed this weekend in the Texas House in a swirl of accusations and insults that the GOP leadership ignited with the unveiling of a border security plan that would add an entire new layer of bureaucracy with posse comitatus powers to law enforcement in the Lone Star State.
The proposal that Speaker Dade Phelan endorsed on Friday would create a border protection unit as an extension of the Department of Public Safety with the ability to recruit citizen volunteers who would be immune from criminal and civil liability. House Bill 20 could be tantamount to an employment act for disgruntled border patrol agents who Governor Greg Abbott promised to hire if they wanted to work for the state. It would spawn a plethora of openings for unit chiefs, deputy unit chiefs and assistant unit chiefs who would draw salaries and other benefits from the state for their work in operations they could grow with the enlistment of civilians to help enforce immigration law.
House Bill 20 seeks to bolster the porous Operation Lone Star by raising the punishment for trespassing from a Class B misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. While rife with the potential to backfire on multiple fronts, the legislation could be destined to fail as a consequence of provisions that would require the new border police to "deter and repel" migrants from entering Texas outside official ports of entry and to return those who've been detained to Mexico.
That would be a direct affront to enforcement authorities that are reserved for the federal government and could be illegal as a result. But Texas House Republicans appear to be pushing the envelope to see how far they can get with the leadership bill that has Democrats up in arms after two months of peaceful coexistence with the majority party.
GOP State Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler has drawn the lead role in the special border police force conception as the author on HB 20 - one of seven priorities that Phelan designated on Friday in the criminal justice arena. The speaker also pitched his support to a pair of bills that Republican State Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City is sponsoring in attempts to establish border protection courts and to increase the penalties for human smuggling.
Schaefer is a hard-line conservative who's a Texas Freedom Caucus charter member with minimal experience on major legislation beyond a restrictive amendment that he tacked on to an immigration regulation measure several years ago. Guillen is chairing the Homeland Security & Public Safety in his first regular session as a Republican after serving 20 years as a Democrat.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio fired an opening salvo as the House Democratic Caucus chairman - warning that Republicans will be playing with fire if they pursue the Schaefer bill.
"Let's be clear—HB 20 is a "Show me Your Papers" bill being enforced by a new state police force," Martinez Fischer tweeted on Friday. "This legislation is a tinderbox waiting to explode that will leave this session in flames. And House Republicans have been warned."
That prompted a mocking reply from State Rep. Dustin Burrows - a Lubbock Republican who's one Phelan's highest ranking lieutenants as the Calendars Committee chair.
"Let’s be clear - some don’t want solutions," Burrows asserted on Twitter. "They complain about the status quo, and then create false narratives about solutions to try and manufacture outrage. And the voters of Texas have given warning that they want a safe and secure border."
Abbott has told agents for the U.S. Border Patrol that the state would have jobs waiting for them if necessary. "If they are at risk of losing their job - you have a job in the state of Texas," Abbott said in a Fox News interview in 2021. "I will hire you to help Texas secure our border."
HB 20 covers 28 pages with the word chief listed 33 times in the text. Escape clauses on legal liability would only apply at the state level and do nothing to prevent the prosecution of the chiefs and their assistants and the average citizens who are effectively deputized to aid in border security despite a lack of training in law enforcement.
more to come ...