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A new Texas law will increase the penalties for operators of stash houses and human smugglers

Migrants sit and stand by concertina wire marking the Southern border in the evening.
Eric Gay
Gov. Greg Abbott has called Texas lawmakers back for a fourth special session this week, saying the state must pass measures that would curb illegal migration.

A new law in Texas will make human smuggling a felony that carries with it a 10-year minimum prison sentence.

Senate Bill 4, introduced by state Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, and signed into law Tuesday, passed in the third special session of the Texas Legislature. It’s part of a package of border and immigration bills Gov. Greg Abbott deemed a priority when he called lawmakers back to Austin after the regular session ended in May.

The new law will increase the penalty for operators of stash houses from a misdemeanor to a felony, and carries with it a mandatory five-year prison term. The law goes into effect Feb. 6, according to the Texas Legislature website. (It is separate from another bill, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, that creates a new state crime for unauthorized entry. A timeline on when that bill goes into effect isn’t clear.)

Abbott and his Republican supporters have argued that increased border enforcement is necessary due to what they call the Biden administration’s “open border” policies that have resulted in a record number of apprehensions of undocumented immigrants into Texas.

Opponents of the measure argued that it casts too wide a net and could ensnare volunteers and members of religious organizations that work with asylum seekers after they cross the border.

“It's just going to bring about more racial profiling,” El Paso County Commissioner David Stout told The Texas Newsroom last month after the bill passed. “All of the people that work in the [non-governmental organizations] here in El Paso don't ask people what their documentation or status is. They could be considered, under that bill, as breaking the law.”

State Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, is the House sponsor of the bill and said those concerns were overblown. He said during a debate on the House floor that a person would need to meet the provisions of the bill to be charged, including knowingly concealing or harboring someone. He added that smuggling is already a crime, and the legislation only enhances the penalties.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Tuesday’s bill signing.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

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