88th LegislatureImmigration & BorderIssuesState SenateStatewide NewsTexas Border Force, 10-Year Minimum for Human Smuggling, Landowner Compensation Passes State Senate

HB 7 contains measures that were lost in the House, including a border protection force and criminal penalties for illegal border crossings.
May 25, 2023
The Texas Senate passed a major bill to create a state border security force, criminalize illegal immigration, increase the minimum sentence for human smuggling, compensate landowners for damage caused by illegal immigrants, and enact other reforms designed to respond to the border crisis.

House Bill (HB) 7 passed the chamber by a vote of 19 to 11. The legislation, authored primarily by Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City), was carried by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury).

Under HB 7, the Texas Border Force (TBF) would be part of the Texas Rangers. For the purposes of determining pay grade, agents in the TBF could receive credit for up to four years of service in the United States Border Patrol.

The Senate removed a provision from HB 7 that would have allowed commissioners courts to decide whether the TBF operated in their counties. Local governments are barred from interfering with the TBF in the Senate’s version of the bill.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Military Department would be permitted to reach agreements to have service members serve on the TBF.

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The fiscal note for HB 7 indicates that the exact cost of the bill cannot be pinned down due to the proposed grant programs and criminal statutes, among other factors. However, the note stated an estimate of $40 million for five “advanced scanning stations” at ports of entry and a combined $24 million for “intelligence software.” Salaries for members of the border force could cost tens of millions.

Human smuggling would be punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison under HB 7. The fiscal note points out that the average time a prisoner spent incarcerated for human smuggling was only one year in 2022. Consequently, the expense of additional bedspace and other correctional resources would be significant.

By passing HB 7, the Senate reanimated a proposal to criminalize illegal border crossings that expired in the House on Tuesday as lawmakers missed the deadline to pass the bill. Though Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant) sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 2424 to create criminal penalties for illegal immigration, the bill was lost to postponement after a point of order by Rep. Erin Gamez (D-Brownsville).

HB 7 would make “improper entry from a foreign nation” a Class A misdemeanor. The offense could be upgraded to a state jail felony for repeat offenders. The criminal sanctions would be even more severe for those with serious criminal convictions.

The bill contains a compensation program for landowners who experienced property damage caused by people crossing the border illegally. The fiscal note indicated the state is unable to provide an exact estimate of how much the program will cost, though it provided a rough estimate of $25 million. The maximum reimbursement for landowners who file a claim would be $75,000 per incident.

HB 7 also provides civil causes of action for those harmed by organized criminal activity associated with foreign terrorist organizations.

Supporters of assertive border security measures at the state level contend the federal government has failed to reduce the number of illegal crossings, and that the crisis has empowered criminal cartels and worsened drug trafficking.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, border patrol agents along the southern U.S. border arrested illegal immigrants between ports of entry more than 1.2 million times in the first seven months of Fiscal Year 2023, which began in October.

Sen. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) stated on the Senate floor that he believes HB 7 will create more problems than it solves.

“The first problem is I believe that it’s unconstitutional based on the decision from Arizona v. United States. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot create or enforce immigration laws,” Blanco said.

Blanco said the U.S. Congress needs to “enhance border security” by creating a “more permanent solution to our broken immigration system.” He also expressed concern that Latino Americans will be targeted by the TBF for “pretextual” encounters.

The deadline for the House to pass the bill with the Senate’s amendments is Friday, May 26. The chamber can also request a conference committee to resolve any differences. If the House fails to concur with the Senate’s amendments or adopt a conference committee report, the bill will be lost.

This is Guillen’s first legislative session as a Republican. The South Texas member switched political parties in November 2021, receiving a warm welcome from Phelan and others in the GOP.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate passed HB 800, another bill that would increase the criminal penalties for human smuggling, operating a stash house, and evading arrest.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."