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Texas lawmakers to consider legislation allowing state and local police to deport migrants

A person in military khakis stands next to a jeep at the border wall
Members of the National Guard patrol near the border fence in Del Rio, Texas, in 2021.

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State lawmakers are considering proposed legislation that, if passed, could potentially tee up another courtroom fight between Texas Republicans and the federal government over immigration enforcement policies.

The Texas House State Affairs committee meets Thursday and will discuss House Bill 4, which would make unauthorized entry into Texas a state crime. It would also authorize local and state law enforcement to order anyone arrested on the offense to return to Mexico.

The committee will also hear testimony related to a southeast Texas development called Colony Ridge, a community far-right Republicans claim is a haven for undocumented immigrants. The committee meets at 10:30 am or upon adjournment of the Texas House at the Texas Capitol, where lawmakers returned to work earlier this month after Gov. Greg Abbott called a third special session of the Texas Legislature.

As filed, HB 4 would make unauthorized entry a class B misdemeanor, but elevate an offense to a state jail felony for an individual previously removed under the law. Instead of arresting a migrant, an officer could choose to order them to return to Mexico after any identifying information is collected. If the person fails to comply, they could be charged with a second-degree felony, which carries prison time of two to 20 years.

Immigration enforcement is a key priority for Abbott during this third round of legislative overtime, even as the state-led border mission called Operation Lone Star continues in full force. That multi-billion dollar operation has deployed thousands of state police and Texas National Guard soldiers to the border since it began in 2021.

The hearing Thursday comes a week after the Texas Senate passed a similar measure, Senate Bill 11, that would make unauthorized entry a state crime. State Sen. Brian Birdwell, the author of that proposal, said the legislation would force migrants and other asylum seekers to enter the country through a formal port of entry and prevent landowners from allowing people to enter illegally through their property.

Both measures could be challenged in court. Opponents and some policy experts say immigration enforcement is mainly under the purview of the federal government. State Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who sits on the House State Affairs committee, said he thinks setting up a court challenge is what Abbott – and the rest of the GOP leadership – has in mind given the high court’s conservative majority.

“I believe that the governor and others are trying to bring test cases to a sympathetic [U.S.] Supreme Court as quickly as possible. And I think this is part of it,” he told The Texas Newsroom.

Anchia added that legislation debated earlier this year, including a bill that would have established a new Texas border police force, would have been a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. United States, which upheld that immigration enforcement is mainly the federal government’s responsibility.

The committee could also advance other proposals on Thursday, including SB 11 and Senate Bill 4, which would increase the penalties for operators of stash houses and human smugglers.

Colony Ridge

The State Affairs committee will also hear invited and public testimony on Colony Ridge, specifically “concerning public safety, security, environmental quality, and property ownership” in that community and similar areas.

The development has garnered statewide attention following reports from right-wing media outlets stating it caters to people in the country illegally and that crime is rampant in the area.

“Some reports claim Colony Ridge may have become a magnet for people from around the world who are not U.S. citizens,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement after he toured the area last month.

“With the Biden administration allowing millions of people to cross the Texas border, many ask if this community is going to become its own enclave with a population bigger than a mid-size city inside the state of Texas.”

The developer has disputed those allegations and invited lawmakers and media to tour the 33,000-acre area earlier this month, Houston Public Media reported.

“To see them take action, or propose action, off of rumors and lies — that was disappointing,” developer Trey Harris, who co-owns the development with two family members, told HPM. “That’s why we wanted the legislators to actually come to the neighborhood and actually see for themselves what’s here.”

On deck next week

There’s more border-related legislation on the agenda for state lawmakers next week. On Monday, Texas House budget writers will meet to consider providing $1.5 billion more for construction of a barrier on the state’s border with Mexico. Abbott included the effort when he started Operation Lone Star and has touted Texas as the only state building its own wall in recent social media posts.

During the regular session of the Texas Legislature that concluded in May, lawmakers appropriated more than $5 billion for border security. If approved, the latest disbursement would be transferred to the governor’s office and would fund two years of construction.

The current special legislative session began Oct. 9 and can last up to 30 days, although the governor can call lawmakers back as often as he wants.

Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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