Texas, Florida push border laws as governors eye presidency
PHOENIX >> Led by tough-talking Republican governors weighing presidential runs, Texas and Florida are debating especially strict legislation on border security as the GOP tests federal authority over immigration.
The moves in the two GOP-controlled statehouses come against a backdrop of polarization in Congress that makes any national immigration legislation seem unlikely as President Joe Biden tries to drive down migrant arrivals at the border while eyeing his own reelection bid.
Republican proposals in Texas build on Gov. Greg Abbott’s $4 billion project Operation Lone Star, with its construction of more barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and busing of migrants to Democratic-led cities, including Washington, D.C., and New York. Abbott’s aides confirm he’s considering running for president.
Operation Lone Star already has added more officers along Texas’ border with Mexico to detain migrants who trespass on private property. Now, Texas lawmakers have proposed creating a new border police force that could deputize private citizens, as well as making it a state felony to enter the state without authorization, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“Texas is taking historic action to secure the border and stop guns, drugs, and cartel gangs from assailing our state,” Abbott said in a tweet this week. “As President Biden abandons his constitutional duty, Texas continues to step up.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered Donald Trump’s strongest possible GOP competitor so far in next year’s presidential primary, has proposed making human smuggling in the state a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Hospitals would be required to collect data on patients’ immigration status and people in the U.S. illegally would be denied state government ID cards.
“Texas and Florida are places with politically ambitious governors who are hoping to use immigrants in the furtherance of their agendas,” said attorney Tanya Broder of the National Immigration Law Center, which promotes immigrant rights.
Despite the hardline rhetoric, Broder said advancements in immigrant rights have been quietly made in recent years.
State-level organization has improved immigrants’ access to health care, higher education, professional licenses and driver’s licenses, according to a recent study Broder co-authored.
The study noted Colorado became the first state to enact an alternative to unemployment insurance for excluded workers. Arizona voters last year approved instate tuition for all students who attended high school in the state, regardless of their immigration status.
Abbott and DeSantis blame Biden for a big increase last year in illegal crossings into the U.S. But a plunge this year in illegal crossing numbers could throw cold water on the GOP’s attacks against Biden’s handling of border issues. The sharp drop along the Southwest
border followed the Biden administration’s announcement of stricter immigration measures.
The U.S. Border Patrol said it encountered migrants 128,877 times trying to cross the border in February between the legal ports of entry, the lowest monthly number since February 2021. Agents detained migrants more than 2.5 million times at the southern border in 2022, including more than 250,000 in December, the highest on record.
“Florida will not turn a blind eye to the dangers of Biden’s Border Crisis,” DeSantis said in a tweet last month announcing Florida’s legislation. “We are proposing additional steps to protect Floridians from these reckless federal policies, including mandatory E-Verify and prohibiting local government from issuing ID cards to illegal aliens.”
While Texas and Florida officials ballyhoo their border tightening efforts, no major immigration legislation has emerged this year in Arizona, where some of the nation’s toughest laws targeting immigrants have been devised.