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Seal of the Senate of the State of Texas
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Texas Senate
May 25, 2023
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(AUSTIN) — A dedicated border security unit would be created at the Department of Public Safety under a bill given final Senate approval late Wednesday. HB 7 differs significantly from the version that came over from the House, and changes a controversial proposal to allow civilian participation in border security operations. Bill sponsor and Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell said that provision had significant shortcomings. "While we understand the intent in creating it, we identified significant issues with its structure and chain of command as proposed," he said. Instead the bill would create a new Border Force Unit (BFU) within the Texas Rangers at the Department of Public Safety, with the head of the Rangers also acting as head of the new border security unit.

The new unit would seek personnel with previous border operational experience from local and state law enforcement agencies, the military, and federal Border Patrol. All officers would have to go through an academy training process, though for experienced personnel Birdwell said that training could be streamlined. The version passed by the House included provisions from HB 20, which would've allowed civilians who are not licensed peace officers to participate in border security operations. "The training requirements, unlike HB 20 in the House… are such that the DPS, if they already have some pre-training they can do an abbreviated academy, but they must come out of a DPS academy before they can be assigned to the border force," said Birdwell. The bill was further amended to clarify that only commissioned peace officers within the force would be permitted to arrest people or carry a weapon. Non-commissioned support staff could not participate in this manner. The bill would direct funding to hire 50 DPS officers as initial personnel, though the unit could hire more as needed.

Birdwell was adamant that this unit would not be enforcing federal immigration law, but rather a new state offense created under the bill for improper entry into the state from a foreign nation. BFU officers, he said, would have to see these individuals crossing the border in order to make an arrest under the offense. After being processed and prosecuted for the state crime, the individual would then be handed over to federal border patrol agents. "They would be arrested for improper entry into the state of Texas, processed for that crime, and then also processed through Border Patrol for immigration as well," said Birdwell. "Again, the state's not enforcing immigration law, we're enforcing improper entry into the state to compel people to go to the 29 ports of entry that are in Texas or compel the cartels to move them to Arizona." Birdwell declined to predict how many arrests would be made by the Border Force going forward, but noted that in the first three months of 2023, there were 170,000 immigration-related arrests or detainments along the border. "That is an indeterminate number at this point," he said. "That's why we leave it much to DPS' discretion how and whom to process for what crimes."

Senators representing the border areas rose in opposition to the measure. Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini said she doesn't think the perspective of the citizens of the border are reflected in the bill before the body. "We want to be part of the solution. We have ideas, we understand, we live here every day," said Zaffirini. "It seems to me that one solution after another proposed by people who live far, far away from the border never, ever will cut it." The border senators prefer using technology rather than manpower to monitor the border, more investment in local law enforcement agencies that know the communities they serve, and addressing issues in America that are contributing to the problem, like the demand for illegal drugs and the flow of guns into Mexico from the US. "I promise you, I am confident, that if we reduced and eliminated the demand for drugs, if we stopped the southward flow of guns, and the southward flow of money, the problems would be solved," said Zaffirini.

Ultimately the bill passed on a vote of 19-11, and will now likely head to a conference committee to work out the differences between the two chambers.

The Senate will reconvene Friday, May 26 at 11:00 a.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.