To become law, Schaefer’s bill will have to pass both houses of the Texas Legislature before the end of the legislative session in May. Republicans hold majorities in both the Texas House and Senate, making increased border security policies very possible.
According to the Border Protection Unit Act’s text, if two-thirds of both houses approve the act it will take effect immediately. If the bill is passed without a two-thirds majority, it will take effect on Sept. 1 of this year.
Texas Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell introduced similar legislation in the Senate, making illegally crossing the border a state felony punishable by jail time. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, has signaled his support for Birdwell’s bill.
Abbott, who is a Catholic Republican, has said that securing the border is an “emergency item” for the 2023 Texas legislative session.
A Feb. 16 press release from Abbott’s office announced that he intends to work with the Legislature to “secure another $4.6 billion to bolster border security efforts” and to “pass legislation making it at least a 10-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone caught smuggling in Texas.”
With a record 2.76 million-plus undocumented migrants crossing the border in the fiscal year 2022, illegal immigration has been a growing concern for not only Republicans but also some key Democrats, including President Joe Biden.
In February, the Biden administration announced a new policy that will take effect May 11 and automatically deny asylum to migrants who cross the border illegally or cross other countries illegally to get into the United States. Biden’s new rule, which is his most restrictive border policy yet, will remain in effect until May 11, 2025.
Responding to Biden’s new policy, Dylan Corbett of the Catholic relief group Hope Border Institute told CNA that those setting immigration policy should consider the effects on migrants.
“We spend billions of dollars every year on border and immigration enforcement. There is no doubt that we can reinvest some of those resources into putting in place a safe, efficient, welcoming system at the border that upholds the rights of vulnerable migrants and keeps our country safe.
“At this point, it is only a question of overcoming the political hurdles. Unfortunately, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle today only see the political cost of making progress on immigration, but they don’t realize that there is also a moral cost to shutting the door on the most vulnerable that is far more consequential,” Corbett said.