AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Legislature could look into new state-level immigration laws to give police more authority in immigration-related cases.
During a meeting of the Texas House’s State Affairs Committee, Texas Deputy Attorney General Brantley Starr told legislators they could create state-level immigration laws if they were careful to carve out unique areas that did not conflict or step on federal immigration laws, the Texas Tribune reported.
While the deputy AG acknowledged “foreign policy and related matters, such as immigration, are one of the few enumerated powers the federal government has,” he made it clear there is still room for the states to play a role that could survive challenges in the federal courts. “You do have the ability to create state-level offenses that have an immigration element to them as long as they are sufficiently unique,” he told the committee members during a hearing held last week on the subject of border security and immigration.
As an example, the deputy AG referenced sections of HB11 passed during the 2015 legislative session. That bill, authored by Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), created a state felony offense for the act of smuggling someone into the country for pay, Breitbart Texas’ Lana Shadwick reported. Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in June. The new law gives Texas the toughest border security laws in the nation.
So far, there have been no Constitutional challenges to that law and it already helps Texas police officers make arrests where the federal government would not, the Tribune reported.
Texas Department of Public Safety director, Colonel Steve McCraw, confirmed to the legislators the impact the bill is already having in the state. He told the members of the committee they are able to make arrests in cases where the numbers of illegal aliens being smuggled does not meet the threshold needed by the Department of Homeland Security to take action.
He referenced the example of a stash house where Border Patrol agents were working with state troopers. Being held in the stash house were eight illegal aliens, including two pregnant women. The women were being held against their will, the director said. Normally, the smugglers would have gone unpunished because of the number of people being held, but the new law allowed the police to go to the district attorney and make a state level case based upon the new law.
In April, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Hector Garza testified before a Texas Senate subcommittee on border security in his capacity as president of the National Border Patrol Council, Local 2455, Breitbart Texas reported. He told the senators the federal government fails to secure the border because they will not enforce federal immigration laws.
Agent Garza told the committee that the federal government has some of the “most restrictive prosecutorial guidelines for smuggling cases.” He said that because of this, many cases of human smuggling are not prosecuted.
The senators appeared shocked to learn that the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Texas sets a threshold for prosecution whereby a smuggler must be transporting six or more illegal immigrants before they can be prosecuted.
Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) responded, “This seems like saying that if a bank robber steals less than $1,000 from a bank, we won’t prosecute them.” Committee Chairman Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) was so shocked, he asked Garza to repeat his testimony.
While working with the Brooks County sheriff’s office in Falfurrias in 2014, this writer learned that threshold can be as high as fifteen people being smuggled before the federal government would take action. This is why you would see smugglers setting up smaller hauls to stay below the threshold.
Under the new law, the state can now intercede in these situations and make an arrest on a state level crime.
Deputy AG Starr told the House panel the reason this bill works is because it does not interfere with the federal government’s discretion on the decision to actually deport the smuggler.
Starr also advised the panel on things to avoid in crafting a “sanctuary cities” bill for the next legislative session. He warned against including issues that are clearly stated in federal law. As an example he cited a section of a prior sanctuary cities bill that excluded asking school children about their immigration status. He said the Supreme Court had already ruled that school children cannot be asked about their immigration status.
Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas and is a member of the original Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter@BobPriceBBTX.