In recent days, the Texas state Senate moved one step closer to passing a law empowering state police to arrest migrants crossing the US-Mexico border into the Lone Star State, a provision that has alarmed civil rights advocates.
On Thursday evening, the state Senate advanced SB 11, which would create a new state crime for illegally entering Texas from Mexico.
The proposal, which passed with an initial 19-12 vote, still needs a full floor vote before being submitted to the state House.
"It is carefully tailored to avoid intruding on federal immigration enforcement authority while providing law enforcement with an important new tool to deter improper or unlawful entry into Texas," sponsor Sen Brian Birdwell, a Republican, said of the measure during a committee meeting.
Critics said the measure could overwhelm local jails and would cost the state tens of thousands of dollars a day to enforce.
“My concern is the state of Texas may add a layer on top of what we are dealing with in terms of both border security and a humanitarian crisis that has developed and continues to affect our communities,” Sen César Blanco, a Democrat, said of the bill.
Civil rights advocates also have concerns about SB 11.
“We’ve seen before that laws like these result in the unlawful racial profiling, arrest, and detention of both U.S. citizens and immigrants,” said Sarah Mehta, senior border policy counsel at the ACLU.
The group said Texas governor Gregg Abbott has “repeatedly abused the legal system in a relentless campaign against asylum seekers and immigrants in Texas.”
“This dangerous attempt to criminalize immigrants is cruel and comes at a great cost to our communities.”
In July, the Justice Department said it intends to sue the state over Operation Lone Star, a wide-ranging initiative from Governor Abbott deploying state troopers, as well as military-style barriers, along the border to engage in immigration enforcement.
Immigration is the province of federal law enforcement, but thousands of immigrants have been arrested by state personnel for trespassing on private property, allegedly being held in jail for weeks without facing charges.
The governor’s office has previously told The Independent that Operation Lone Star had led to the apprehension of more than 393,000 unauthorised immigrants and the repelling of more than 49,000 illegal immigrants, as well as over 31,000 arrests, “all of which would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and our country thanks to President Biden’s open border policies.”
According to an investigation by the Texas Tribune, ProPublica, and The Marshall Project, state police have arrested far more trespassers than cartel members, and allegedly inflated data on Operation Lone Star by citing arrests on crimes like cockfighting, sexual assault, and stalking in their success statistics, even though these offences had no clear link to immigration enforcement.
As The Independent has reported, the governor has relied on a constitutional theory that Texas is under “invasion” by migrants to justify the military-style build-up at the border, even though legal experts say courts have repeatedly rejected this interpretation of immigration powers.
Observers are skeptical the governor’s crackdown on immigration will change the conditions on the ground.
“We’ve spent $12bn over the last decade, and we have nothing to show for it,” Jaime Puente, director of economic opportunity programmes at the advocacy group Every Texan, which monitors the state budget, previously told The Independent. “People are not being deterred from coming to the US to seek a better life and opportunities…no matter how deadly we make that journey.”
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