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Last week in Texas, significant legislative activities focused primarily on immigration and border security. Governor Greg Abbott signed three border-related bills into law:
Senate Bill 3
This bill earmarks $1.54 billion in state funds to continue constructing barriers along the Texas-Mexico border and allocates up to $40 million for state troopers to patrol specific areas. The law aims to augment the approximately 40 miles of border barrier already contracted by the state since September 2021.
Senate Bill 4
This controversial bill creates a state crime for illegally crossing the border from Mexico, which is likely to incite a legal confrontation with the federal government. The bill also intensifies penalties for smuggling immigrants or operating a stash house, increasing the minimum sentence from two years to 10 years. This law, along with SB 3, is set to go into effect in early March 2024, with the human smuggling law effective in early February 2024.
Another measure related to illegal border crossings
This law makes it a Class B misdemeanor, with a punishment of up to six months in jail, for individuals to cross the Texas-Mexico border between ports of entry. Repeat offenders could face a second-degree felony with a punishment of two to 20 years in prison. The law allows charges to be dropped if a migrant agrees to return to Mexico. However, it faces potential roadblocks if the Mexican government refuses to accept certain migrants when they’re deported by Texas.
These legislative moves have sparked a significant backlash. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, alongside other groups, filed a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4, arguing it’s unconstitutional and preempts federal law. They assert that the bill overrides constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law, potentially harming Texans, particularly in Brown and Black communities. Over 20 Congressional Democrats have called on the Department of Justice to intervene and stop SB 4 from taking effect, branding it as a law that promotes discrimination and puts many Texans at risk.
Public opinion is divided, with a poll indicating broad support among Texas voters for stricter immigration laws, yet revealing a significant partisan divide. Approximately 56% of voters support making undocumented presence a state crime, with higher backing among Republican voters.
Abbott defends these measures as necessary to protect Texas from drug cartels and unauthorized immigration, attributing the need for state action to what he describes as the Biden administration’s failure to effectively manage border security. However, critics, including immigrant rights organizations and Democrats, argue that these laws infringe on federal authority over immigration and risk undermining the legal system’s foundational principles.
In summary, last week’s legislative activities in Texas were marked by robust action and significant controversy surrounding immigration and border security, reflecting broader national debates on these issues.