A bipartisan set of Texas state lawmakers contended that the State of Texas should balance enforcement and compassion when addressing illegal immigration, and criticized the federal government for failing to address multiple aspects of the border crisis.
Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), and Rep. Eddie Morales Jr. (D-Eagle Pass) appeared on a border security policy panel at The Texan’s 88th Session Kickoff at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin on Tuesday.
Flores said that enforcement should be focused on those who “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” break the law, and that the federal government must uphold its constitutional duty to secure the border. He expressed his support for the $4 billion in spending on Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature border security effort.
“Our first responsibility is to take care of our nation, to take care of our communities, and the place that we live and call home. But we can’t forget those little girls, little children, that are left on the banks of the Rio Grande,” Flores said.
“Are we going to treat them like animals or are we going to be judged by God to be the country that we are that’s based on how we treat the most defenseless people? That’s what our country of ‘E pluribus unum’ … stands for, our republic. But we still have to maintain the rule of law while maintaining the highest standards of civilization on God’s green earth.”
Canales suggested that elected officials in both parties have neglected to implement sound policy.
“Democrats and Republicans have failed miserably from Washington to Texas to solve this problem,” Canales said, adding that “Texas has had to take up the slack” from the federal government’s failure.
Canales referenced a bill he introduced in a previous legislative session to make it a criminal enhancement in Texas to assault federal law enforcement officers, including border guards. The bill, House Bill 27, was not considered in the Republican-controlled Texas Senate after passing the House overwhelmingly.
He also suggested that the state is not getting a return on investment for the money spent on Operation Lone Star.
“Is it making a difference? Yeah, but not the difference we’re paying for. Anybody that’s conservative knows $4 billion is a lot of … tax dollars,” Canales commented, highlighting that many of the arrests have been for misdemeanors.
The Democrat also took a jab at Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez has vilified border agents and supports abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On the other hand, Canales asserted that not all Democrats support “open borders” and those in border communities have an incentive to support security measures.
“She’s one of the most well-prepared, well-spoken, misguided people I’ve ever met,” Canales quipped. “There’s a difference between Washington Democrats and a South Texas Democrat. I guarantee you we’re probably the most conservative voting members of our caucus.”
Morales, who represents a district that includes more than 770 miles of the southern border, proposed a system whereby foreign nationals could apply for legal status in Texas for $2,000 per application. He said the policy would generate $3.2 million in revenue daily amid the thousands of illegal border crossings per day in the Eagle Pass and Del Rio sectors.
Contending there should be a “level of fairness and equality” in the state’s policy, he emphasized that fiscal arguments are also likely to resonate with Republicans.
“It’s not compassionate for those folks who are coming across. It’s not compassionate to our law enforcement that are risking their lives daily,” Morales said about illegal immigration, adding that the American immigration system has been “broken” for decades.
Flores, Canales, and Morales agreed that the onus is on Congress and the federal government to act.
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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."