Keeping promises made earlier in the legislative session to further prioritize border security, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan unveiled a package of priority border security bills last week.
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HB 20 has received the most attention of those bills since it was filed last week and has attracted a barrage of emotionally charged criticism from Democratic lawmakers and organizations that is not supported by the actual text of the legislation.
In a press release announcing Speaker Phelan’s border security priority legislation, the Speaker’s office stated that “House Bill 20 by Representative Schaefer would establish the Border Protection Unit, a new unit housed within the Texas Department of Public Safety and directed by a governor-appointed chief who reports directly to the Public Safety Commission, to provide a mission-oriented, locally-based response to the state’s ongoing border security operations. The Border Protection Unit would be headquartered along the border and prioritize the recruitment of individuals who are either residents of or have significant experience with border communities to staff the operation. In doing so, Texas National Guard soldiers, state troopers and game wardens that have been deployed along the border for weeks or months at a time would eventually be sent back home, returning them to their own core missions and communities.”
Democrats, however, have reacted strongly in opposition to the bill. In a statement posted to Twitter, the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (MALC) described HB 20 as an “extreme vigilante death squads policy.” The Chairwoman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, State Representative Victoria Neave, stated “This dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional proposal which empowers border vigilantes to hunt migrants and racially profile Latinos is going to result in the death of innocent people. MALC is going to do everything in our power to kill this legislation just as Latino State Representatives for the past 5 decades have fought against Klan-like proposals.”
The leader of the House Democratic Caucus, State Representative Trey Martinez-Fischer, also chimed in against HB 20. Martinez-Fischer described the bill as a “Show me Your Papers bill” and “a tinderbox waiting to explode that will leave this session in flames.”
Republican lawmakers pushed back against the unfounded accusations from their Democratic colleagues on social media.
State Representative Jeff Leach responded to Representative Martinez-Fisher’s statement against HB 20, calling it “A petulant way to engage on perhaps the most serious issue facing our state.” Leach added “My friend [Representative Schaefer] is the right man to help lead this charge & I’m hopeful reasonable Democrats will break from the radical progressives leading their party & work with us to secure the border.”
Schaefer himself corrected the “extreme vigilante death squads” narrative put forth by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus. “The Texas Border Protection Unit will be an organization of professional men and women hired/trained under the authority of the Dept of Public Safety to protect Texans. Many will be licensed peace officers, others trained and specifically authorized by the Governor to make lawful arrests. Exactly as the Nat’l Guard & DPS operate now under Operation Lone Star,” said Schaefer
Schaefer’s statement was applauded by State Representative Dustin Burrows, who tweeted to Schaefer “Thank you for filing this important legislation. The Texas Border Protection Unit will be a professional law enforcement agency, with oversight and accountability. It is disingenuous, at best, to claim this creates ‘vigilante death squads.’ It is always easier to parrot a salacious headline vs. reading and trying to understand the bill. This is why “a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
The Texas Voice has reviewed the text of HB 20 and can confirm that the descriptions of the bill from Speaker Phelan’s office, Representative Schaefer, and Representative Burrows are accurate.
In addition to HB 20, HB 7 by Representative Ryan Guillen creates several border-related initiatives. These include a Border Safety Oversight Committee, Regional Border Protection Court Programs, a mechanism for providing financial assistance for constructing physical barriers along the border, and other initiatives. HB 1600, by Representative Cole Hefner, would make it a felony offense by entering Texas by crossing the Mexican border anywhere other than at an authorized port of entry.
HB 7, HB 20, and HB 900 have all been referred to the State Affairs committee.