Texas Republicans propose creation of vigilante group to hunt migrants at the border that will have immunity from prosecution
Republican lawmakers in Texas want to create a state security force to patrol the US-Mexico border that critics have characterised as a "vigilante death squad policy."
Dade Phelan, the Republican speaker of Texas' House of Representatives, told a meeting of the Texas Public Policy Foundation that he plans to introduce a bill that he says will "make national headlines and change the conversation on border security," according to The Intercept.
The bill — House Bill 20 — would allow Texas' Department of Public Safety to hunt, arrest, and deport undocumented migrants.
The group would be comprised of law enforcement officers and civilians under the direction of a governor-selected chief. The members of the group would also be extended immunity from criminal prosecution relating to their actions on the border. They will be directed to "arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally including with the use of non-deadly force."
The group will also apparently be authorised to "use force to repel, arrest, and detain known transnational cartel operatives in the border region."
A piece of companion legislation would make undocumented entry into Texas a state crime, with first-time offenders subject to a year in prison, two years in prison for second-time offenders, and life in prison for individuals with prior felony convictions.
Democrats in Texas are opposed to the bill, likening the legislation to a "vigilante death squads policy."
🚨🚨🚨MALC Denounces Extreme Vigilante Death Squads Policy
“MALC is going to do everything in our power to kill this legislation just as Latino State Representatives for the past 5 decades have fought against Klan-like proposals,” said Chairwoman @Victoria4Texas #txlege 1/2 pic.twitter.com/dYTmUrJYQa
— MALC (@MALCTx) March 11, 2023
“This dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional proposal which empowers border vigilantes to hunt migrants and racially profile Latinos is going to result in the death of innocent people,” Victoria Neave Criado, the Democratic chair of Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said in a statement last week. “MALC is going to do everything in our power to kill this legislation just as Latino State Representatives for the past 5 decades have fought against Klan-like proposals.”
Mr Phelan anticipated the opposition, and claimed he was prepared to take the matter to the conservative-majority Supreme Court if Democrats challenge the law.
This isn't the first time the state has tried to create a border protection force beyond the federal US Customs and Border Protection agency. In 2021 Republican Governor Greg Abbott initiated "Operation Lone Star" that placed National Guard troops at the border. However, the $4bn endeavor was met with numerous controversies, including the deaths of several National Guard members, some to suicide, and allegations of human rights violations that resulted in a Justice Department investigation.
The operation has shown no notable difference in the rate of undocumented border crossings or transnational drug trafficking.
If the case is challenged and successfully survives a Supreme Court ruling, it would change the way all border states could police the southern border.