AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas is closer to giving police broad new authority to arrest migrants and order them to leave the U.S. under a bill the state House advanced Thursday, putting Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on the path toward a potential new confrontation with the Biden administration over immigration.
Tempers flared over the proposal in the Texas Capitol, where Hispanic Democratic lawmakers led hours of emotional protests over issues of race and the legality of the plan before House Republicans passed the bill on a party-line vote before sunrise.
A similar proposal has already cleared the Texas Senate, meaning Republicans must now agree on a version before sending it to Abbott's desk.
“Our cries for help in the enforcement of existing federal immigration laws have been ignored by President Biden. We have had enough," said Republican state Rep. David Spiller, author of the House bill.
Two years into Texas pushing the boundaries of immigration enforcement — busing migrants out of state, stringing razor wire along the border and installing water barriers in the Rio Grande — new plans to let police arrest migrants and order them to leave the country is setting up another test that would likely face a court challenge.
Opponents say handing all Texas law enforcement such power would risk inadvertent arrests of U.S. citizens, put families of mixed immigration status in danger during routine outings and make crime victims fearful of going to the police for help.
As anger mounted among Democrats Wednesday night, one lawmaker recorded and then posted video of a colleague lashing into Republicans during a private huddle on the floor of the Texas House.
“Y'all don't understand the (expletive) you do hurts our community,” state Rep. Armando Walle is seen saying in the video. “It hurts us personally.”
Texas has arrested thousands of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border on criminal trespassing charges since 2021. But the new law would dramatically expand arrest powers to all Texas police and allow to them to take migrants to ports of entry along the border and order them into Mexico.
The power to regulate immigration lies primarily with the U.S. government, and legal experts said Texas' latest plan flies in the face of U.S. law.
“The idea that the state would now take up the power to deport people from the United States is truly radical, even more than the idea of the state creating parallel criminal law to federal criminal immigration law,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, co-direcor of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law.
Critics have compared the proposal to a 2010 Arizona law that required police, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of that law two years later.
J. Anna Cabot, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, expressed skepticism of even the high court's current conservative majority taking up the Texas bill if it became law.
“It's just too cut and dry constitutionally,” Cabot said.