The third special session of the Texas Legislature gaveled in Monday, and much of the talk has been on education. But that’s not the only thing on the agenda.
There are several other issues that lawmakers are permitted to take up, according to the agenda set by Gov. Greg Abbott, including border security.
Julián Aguilar, who covers the border for the Texas Newsroom, said the measures Abbott set out for this special session are holdovers that didn’t make it through the legislative process during the regular session.
“One is to make it a criminal offense to enter the state illegally from another country. Another one would increase the penalties for human smugglers and operators of stash houses,” he said. “And the last one is legislation to impede illegal entry by pretty much funding more money for border barriers and border walls.”
Specifically, these measures would make it a state offense to enter Texas from another country illegally, separate from existing federal immigration policy.
“Under that bullet point (in the agenda), it also says (legislators can pass a law) authorizing all licensed peace officers to remove unauthorized immigrants from Texas,” Aguilar said. “Gov. Abbott has not been shy about challenging the notion that federal immigration is strictly under the purview of the federal government. We saw that over the summer and fall when he installed the buoys in the Rio Grande near there at Eagle Pass. That is tied up in the Fifth Circuit right now.”
Aguilar said laws criminalizing unauthorized border crossings at the state level will likely also end up in court.
“Likely these will get challenged,” he said. “But I think that’s what the governor’s aiming for with a conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court now.”
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The special session agenda also has an item under “public safety” related to the Colony Ridge development in southwest Texas.
“Over the last few weeks, there’s been several elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a lot of far right groups that support these lawmakers, that say ‘we’ve gone out there and it looks like it’s a third world country and these developments are popping up out of nowhere. There’s no regulation. Law enforcement won’t go in there. It’s a haven for cartel activity,’” Aguilar said. “Meanwhile, the developers are out there saying, ‘come on in, see for yourself.’ They’ve asked people to go and tour the property. There’s been a lot of media reports.”
Aguilar said this item likely made it on the agenda because of the recent scrutiny.
“I think Gov. Abbott was somewhat forced to put this on the call and at least address the issue. And this is pretty broad. It’s not just public safety under that, they also want to look at property ownership, environmental quality and other issues relating to Colony Ridge,” he said. “Unclear what they’re going to pass or what’s been filed, but they’re definitely going to talk about it.”