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Southbound Checkpoints Given New Life in Senate

Photo by Mose Buchele/KUT News
U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing at Eagle Pass, TX.

Legislation that would grant the state authority to erect southbound checkpoints near the Texas-Mexico border was successfully revived today after lawmakers attached it as an amendment to a bill concerning record sharing by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

If the amendment to HB 2357 sticks, it would grant the agency the authority to create the checkpoints 250 yards away from the state’s border with Mexico to search for weapons, drugs or bulk cash. HB 2357, by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, is a bill that seeks to modernize records sharing, registration and title transaction practices by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, is the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

The amendment was offered by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, who filed a separate bill this session, SB 288, to create the checkpoints as a means to curb the flow of weapons and cash to Mexican drug cartels. The bill was never placed on the House calendar, however. An amended version of SB 9, an omnibus homeland security bill by Williams, also included the checkpoint language but it, too, died after never being placed on the calendar before Sunday’s deadline. Williams allowed the amendment to HB 2357 after Lucio tweaked two lines from his original bill to designate the checkpoints’ purposes to include checking for the fraudulent titling of stolen vehicles heading south. The language made to the amendment germane and as such, Lucio was able to keep his original language that allows DPS officers to also search for the contraband. The Texas DPS would share the costs of establishing and operating the checkpoints with local and federal agencies, and law enforcement officers would need probable cause to search a vehicle, according to the text of the amendment. 

The move marks the second time a controversial piece of border and homeland security legislation was revived in the waning days of the legislative session. On Monday, Williams successfully added a provision originally included in his SB9 that would mandate the implementation of the federal Secure Communities program in all local detention facilities. The program is administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and allows local law enforcement to compare the fingerprints of those arrested to a DHS database to determine if the individual can be deported. Williams successfully attached that to HB 2734 by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano. Madden’s bill would require that illegal immigrants who are arrested be transferred to the custody of ICE and be deported as soon as possible after their release.

Julian Aguilar covered the 81st legislative session for the Rio Grande Guardian. Previously, he reported from the border for the Laredo Morning Times. A native of El Paso, he has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas and a master's degree in journalism from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas.