McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Civil rights organizations plan to rally against several controversial border security bills in the Texas Legislature, including a proposal to allow “vigilante” patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The rally is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. CDT Wednesday outside the Texas Capitol in Austin, just before the Texas House State Affairs Committee is to hold hearings on several Republican-sponsored border-related measures. The measures include:
- HB7: Would allow county commissioners from different counties to establish a joint special “border protection court program” to prosecute border-related crimes.
- HB1600: Would make it a criminal offense for entering Texas from Mexico by non-U.S. citizens or those with green cards in between legal ports of entry.
- HB20: Would create a new “Border Protection Unit,” that would have the power to hire local citizens to help police the Texas-Mexico border. The head of the unit would be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Opponents say the bills are too strident and would further militarize and threaten border communities.
“The proposals before the Legislature do nothing to help border communities, and instead only serve the governor’s interests — which are to build his political profile by violating federal law in order to play president on federal immigration issues,” said Roberto Lopez, Beyond Borders senior advocacy manager for the Texas Civil Rights Project.
As currently proposed under HB20, the chief of the Border Protection Unit would be allowed to “employ law-abiding citizens without a felony conviction to participate in unit operations and functions, but such persons may not have arresting authority unless trained and specifically authorized by the governor.”
The measure is proposed by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, who says it is necessary “to ensure the safety and welfare of the southern border.”
It is vehemently opposed by civil rights groups, which liken it to deputizing vigilante crusades along the Texas-Mexico border.
“A new paramilitary force under Gov. Greg Abbott, potentially staffed by vigilantes deputized as law enforcement authorities, will provide no ‘protection’ to Texans whatsoever,” Lopez said. “We have already seen paramilitary organizations operating in border communities, and giving them the power to capture and detain people seeking safety and protection at our borders would create chaos that will endanger the safety of all Texans.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is based in Austin, plans to attend Wednesday’s rally. Other participating organizations that are expected include: Border Network for Human Rights; Human Rights Watch; Grassroots Leadership; Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
Nexstar Media plans to cover the rally and hearing and will update with a story.