New Texas Immigration Bill Proposed
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The Lone Star State is looking to crack down on cases of immigrant trafficking within its borders. Currently, cases of immigrant trafficking fall under federal jurisdiction and are enforced by the U.S. Border Patrol, a federal agency. This new Texas immigration bill, however, would put more enforcement responsibility into the hands of local agencies such as sheriff's departments and municipal police departments. Also, cases of immigrant trafficking would subsequently be tried in state courts, helping to relieve overburdened federal district courts. Approximately 160,000 illegal immigrants enter the state of Texas every year according to a 2009 investigation conducted by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot. Consequently, federal court districts, such as the one in Corpus Christi, introduce dozens of immigration cases onto their dockets every week. At this point, state prosecutors are slow to take cases involving the transportation of illegal immigrants as there are no laws on the state books.
Texas State Representative J.M. Lozano (D-Kingsville)
The new Texas immigration bill was introduced by fresh-faced Texas State Representative J.M. Lozano (D-Kingsville) in January. Under the new bill, convictions of transporting illegal immigrants would carry a 180-day to 2 year sentence in a state jail and those transporting illegal immigrants for money or in such a way that could harm their passengers would be subject to a third degree felony, punishable by 2-10 years in a state prison. In a statement to the Harlingen, Texas newspaper, The Valley Morning Star, Lozono said, "We are charged with the responsibility of protecting and safeguarding our communities from all kinds of threats of crime. I hope to work with all levels of law enforcement and county officials to develop an effective bill. Together we can work towards safer communities."
Critics of the Bill
Critics of the Texas immigration bill, including a number of sheriffs, feel that there are not enough resources to take on new spheres of enforcement. They worry about financing, overcrowding in jails and prisons, and the overlap and inefficiency of two agencies competing to enforce the same or similar laws. The state will have to provide more judges and more prosecutors in a time when fiscal concerns pervade every facet of lawmaking. Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said, "Who's going to pay for it? If we put (undocumented immigrant traffickers) in jail, we're going to be overcrowded. Then the state comes and files a lawsuit against me and the county for overcrowding. You need more jail space, more judges, and more prosecutors. These are some of the issues that need to be discussed." Lozano counters these arguments by asserting that financial and logistical concerns are no excuse not to enforce the law.
Consolidate Immigration Issues
This Texas immigration bill is the newest in a trend within Texas to try to consolidate immigration issues more into state control. Last year, a bill was introduced by conservative Republican State Representative Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) mirroring the controversial Arizona law that allows law enforcement officials to inquire about a suspects' immigration status. In both Arizona and Texas, these bills come up against strong opposition, up to and including President Obama and will most likely be reviewed by the Supreme Court for constitutionality.