Update, May 10 5:45 p.m.: The Texas House late Wednesday gave final approval to HB 7, a border protection and funding bill that would create a new state border policing unit and send nearly $100 million to border communities for new detention centers, courts, border security, higher education and economic development projects. Early versions of the proposal would have created the “Border Protection Unit” entirely out of civilians, allowing them to arrest or detain people. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Wednesday threw their support behind a requirement that the unit use only commissioned peace offers for enforcement actions. All of El Paso’s state representatives Joe Moody, Mary Gonzalez, Claudia Ordaz and Lina Ortega voted against the measure which passed 88-56.
Update, May 10, 11:35 a.m.: Here is how El Paso’s state representatives voted on the amendment to House Bill 7 that allows for the creation of a state Border Protection Unit. Voting for – Claudia Ordaz; Voting against – Joe Moody, Mary Gonzalez and Lina Ortega, according to the Texas Legislature’s Roll Call. However, Ordaz told El Paso Matters that she voted no and her vote was recorded incorrectly.
BY JAMES BARRAGÁN AND ALEXA URA/Texas Tribune
Working after midnight Wednesday, Texas House Republicans revived key parts of a bill to create a new state border policing unit, upending Democrats’ daylong efforts to sink it ahead of an important bill-passing deadline.
Democrats initially brought down House Bill 20 by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, on a technicality late Tuesday night, leaving it out of reach of a House deadline to receive initial approval by midnight Thursday because the House had already set its Thursday calendar earlier in the night.
But Republicans gave the policing unit new life less than three hours later, taking language from HB 20 and attaching it as an amendment to a separate immigration-related measure, House Bill 7. The amendment was adopted 90-51.
That borrowed language would create the Border Protection Unit, which is meant to use nondeadly force to deter people from crossing the Mexican border, with its officers able to “arrest, apprehend or detain persons crossing the Texas-Mexico border unlawfully” in border-region counties.
Members of the policing unit would not have to be law officers.
The creation of such a unit will likely test the state’s limits on immigration enforcement, which has traditionally fallen under the federal government’s purview.
Opponents of the policing unit said it would allow untrained “vigilantes” to go after anyone they perceived to be a migrant.
Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, said the unit would expose Texans of color to racial profiling.
“What is to prohibit or stop a Border Protection Unit from setting up their post in Hispanic neighborhoods?” said Rep. Erin Gámez, D-Brownsville, who said her largely Hispanic community would be at particular risk of racial profiling because of its proximity to the border.
Schaefer pitched his bill as a way to help Texas better control the crossing of migrants and combat dangerous drugs at the Mexican border.
“The serious nature of the fentanyl crisis cannot be overstated,” Schaefer said while introducing the bill Tuesday night.
Democrats had placed themselves in position to sink HB 20 by delaying action on multiple bills throughout the day — a practice known as “chubbing” that is used to avoid controversial topics near the end of legislative deadlines.
Democrats celebrated the bill’s demise and promised to be vigilant for attempts to revive the policing unit, but their efforts to challenge the amendment to HB 7 on technicalities were rejected by the House parliamentarian.
Neave Criado said the legislation would have devastated law enforcement’s relationships with communities all over the state.
“This bill was not just about the border or migrants, it was a statewide bill that would have been devastating whether you are new Texans or your family has been here for generations,” said Neave Criado, who leads the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “It would have emboldened civilian vigilantes to be able to set up checkpoints in our cities.”