A Texas state lawmaker has introduced a bill aimed at better securing the U.S. southern border where 1,000 migrants recently attempted to force their way into the country.
The proposed legislation (H.B. 20) would amend current state law to allow for the creation of a new Border Protection Unit, which would have the authority to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally, including with the use of non-deadly force.”
Under the new law, Texas’s Border Protection Unit would also have the legal authority to “oversee the construction and maintenance of walls, fences, and other physical barriers along the border with Mexico in order to enhance the safety and security of Texans,” the bill states.
The head of the group, called the Unit Chief, would report directly to the governor, and would be able to employ licensed state or local law enforcement personnel to participate in operations. The unit chief could also employ “law-abiding citizens without a felony conviction” for operations, though non-law enforcement personnel would not have power to make arrests without receiving training and being authorized by the governor.
State Rep. Matt Schaefer, the Republican lawmaker who introduced the bill, provided a statement on Twitter explaining, “The Texas Border Protection Unit will be an organization of professional men and women hired/trained under the authority of the Dept of Public Safety to protect Texans.”
Dade Phelan, Speaker of the Texas House, issued a separate statement calling the proposal a “must-pass issue this session.”
Criticism was swift following the bill’s introduction, with Democrats alleging racism as the motivation behind the proposed legislation.
“[House Bill] 20 is an egregious assault on our basic civil liberties and our core values as a nation of immigrants,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said, according to Newsweek. “As we have seen in past iterations of this racist, fear-mongering concept, ‘Show Me Your Papers’ laws only stand to inflict constant anxiety and mental trauma upon all people who even look like they could be undocumented immigrants—whatever that means.”
Rochelle Garza, a Texas-based civil rights attorney and president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Newsweek she was “appalled by this dangerous and unconstitutional proposal designed to violate federal law at the expense of the border community I call home.”