Texas bill sparks controversy over border policing

AUSTIN, Texas (NewsNation) — The Texas House Committee on State Affairs heard fiery comments from the public during a hearing that lasted overnight into Thursday morning on a proposed bill that would create a “Border Protection Unit,” which would deputize certain residents to help patrol the border.

The Wednesday hearing on the bill lasted hours, ending around 2 a.m. local time. Hundreds of people signed up to speak both in favor of and opposition to the bill, sharing strong opinions.

House Bill 20 by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) would give DPS a new responsibility of “defense and security of this state’s air, maritime, and land borders.” The governor would have sole authority to appoint and remove the unit chief, and the director of DPS would not have authority over the unit or its officers.

The bill would establish a so-called “Border Protection Unit” that would be made up of a team of law enforcement and possibly certain residents who are trained and authorized by the governor.

The unit would be headquartered in the “border region,” but its jurisdiction would expand across the state. The bill confers broad responsibilities onto officers, including apprehending people crossing the Texas-Mexico border unlawfully, making arrests in any county in Texas, constructing border barriers, searching ships and vehicles near ports of entry and using force to “repel cartel operatives.”

Supporters of the bill said it is long overdue and would help ease the burden on Border Patrol while opponents said it is vigilantism and unconstitutional.

Ahead of the committee hearing, dozens of activists and citizens of border communities rallied against the bill, citing concerns the powers are overreaching with inadequate accountability.

“These bills are not meant to protect Texans. These bills are dangerous bills and are going to perpetuate hate in our communities,” Yvonne Diaz with Texas Rising said.

She continued, “Black and brown people are going to be most affected through these bills because it’s going to perpetuate racial profiling.”

Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd responded, saying, “That’s not what this is. This is a law enforcement organization that is designed to enforce the laws that are already on the books in the state of Texas.”

The bill remains one of the Texas House speaker’s priority bills, so it does have a chance of passing. However, it may face challenges with the courts.

“[HB 20] is problematic because an illegal crossing is first an immigration issue, second a customs issue. The state bill is going to bestow that on them. And they can’t, because that is not a state jurisdiction,” Director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at UT-El Paso Victor Manjarrez said.

A similar situation happened in Arizona back in 2012 with a law that allows police to inquire about immigration status in traffic stops.

Ryan Chandler with NewsNation affiliate KXAN contributed to this report.

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