AUSTIN – While it appeared Texas Democrats had successfully killed a controversial bill criticized for creating a new border “vigilante” unit, Republicans successfully added the unit to different legislation hours later.
The bill would have allowed ordinary citizens to apply to patrol the border to arrest or detain migrants in counties along the border under a new unit housed within the Texas Department of Public Safety. The proposal also transferred more power to Governor Greg Abbott in overseeing operations on the US-Mexico border.
Democrats used a procedural tactic called a point of order to refer the motion back to a House committee. Due to a looming House deadline, he won’t make it to Abbott’s desk.
But the new unit was added on an amendment to a different bill by Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, by a vote of 90-51. That bill tentatively passed the House by a vote of 92-51. It can be passed in the Senate later today, just before midnight Thursday to send House bills to the Senate.
Democrats tried to kill the amendment with two point-of-order motions but were unsuccessful, showing how both sides used various tactical strategies to their advantage.
House Speaker Dade Phelan R-Beaumont considered the proposal — initially brought by Tyler’s GOP Rep. Matt Schaefer — as one of his priority bills this session. Schaefer said the bill represents a “bold new” approach to border security.
Schaefer declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Phelan did not comment.
Rep. Rafael Anchía’s point of order, D-Dallas, which derailed the bill, noted that the legislation contained more than one argument and its caption did not adequately communicate this.
Republicans don’t have time to move Schaefer’s bill back to the House due to Thursday’s deadline.
It’s the third time in recent weeks that Democrats have successfully delayed debate on controversial legislation. The two times a proposal that would ban certain medical treatments for transgender youth has been debated in the House has been sent back to committee.
Tuesday’s lengthy House session saw protesters turn up on Capitol Hill to demonstrate against the proposal. Critics saw the bill as creating a “vigilante” unit because it could have commissioned peace officers and NCOs, those citizens hired for the unit in counties along the border.
Schaefer disagreed with that characterization. The non-commissioned officers would have needed express authorization and training established by Abbott and the Public Safety Commission before they could arrest or detain the migrants.
Democrats expressed concern that the proposal removed DPS director Steven McCraw’s authority over border operations and instead gave authority to the head of the newly created unit, who would be hired and fired only by Abbott .
Debate on the bill did not begin until after 9 p.m., about 12 hours after the lower house met for the day. Those same demonstrators who had gathered in the rotunda in the early afternoon had disappeared. The hundreds of attendees in the gallery were gone, leaving only a handful of lobbyists and empty seats.
“Texas must do everything it can to stop cartels from pumping poison into our neighborhoods,” Schaefer said, referring to fentanyl, the synthetic opiate that has led to thousands of overdose deaths, as he introduced the bill.
He added that it was intended to relieve strain on the Texas National Guard, whose troops have been deployed to the border region for the past two years as part of Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s multibillion-dollar border security effort using members of the Texas National Guard and DPS Officers.
But some Democrats saw the proposal as a way to challenge a Supreme Court ruling that limits the amount of states that can enforce federal immigration laws. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he wants to challenge legal precedents established by the 2012 Arizona v. U.S. ruling
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, repeatedly asked Schaefer if the intention of her bill was to challenge that ruling. Schaefer didn’t answer yes or no when asked if that was the intention of the proposal.
“I can’t talk about what General Paxton said,” Schaefer said.
Are you trying to turn Arizona against the United States? Hinojosa asked.
“Your question has been asked and answered,” Schaefer replied.
Shortly thereafter, Representative Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, spoke about her concerns about the bill saying it would lead to more racial profiling of Latinos and an increased risk of violence.
“An individual from north Texas traveled to El Paso because language like the words ‘invasion,’” said Neave Criado, referring to the 2019 mass shooting in which a white man targeted Latinos. “People are portraying our communities as invaders of this state when we’ve been here for generations.”