Texans testify before Senate committee on frustrations over illegal border crossings
AUSTIN, Texas - One by one, Texans who live along the southern border voiced their anger and frustration while testifying before the Senate Committee on Border Security.
"It's like a war zone in Van Horn, Texas. You can't go out unless you're armed," Kathy Rising said.
"They are scared when they walk their dogs. They are fearful to sit on the porches. They're constantly looking around for illegals," Rhonda Marcourt said.
They said illegal border crossings are out of control.
"If illegals are running through my yard, the border is not secure," Marcourt said.
The sheriff of Terrell County, located in the Big Bend region, agrees.
"Our apprehensions are up about 460%," Terrell County Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland said.
The residents said their ranches are getting trashed.
"The damage to homes, infrastructure, crops, and livestock operations, is visible in every one of our counties," said Harles Maylee, with the South Texans Property Rights Association.
The committee is considering several bills aimed at addressing problems at the border.
SB 1133, which was voted out to the full Texas Senate, would pay for some of the damage.
"The issue is dealing with property. I've seen it myself," Sen. Chuy Hinojosa said.
Other bills, like SB 1403, seek to increase the minimum prison sentence for certain criminal offenses involving human smuggling.
"You're going to have some natural tension between the federal and the state government," constitutional law attorney David Coale said.
Coale said there has been a growing perception over the last few years that problems along the southern border have gotten worse without federal intervention.
"And that's what's prompting a lot of these bills now," he added.
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But even if they pass this legislative session, Coale said the state faces an uphill battle.
The federal government, under the constitution, has exclusive authority to regulate matters related to immigration.
So Coale believes the state could end up in court down the road.
"Some of them are dead on arrival when they hit the courts. Others may well have some legs because they're able to get around the charge that they're trying to regulate immigration policy and really are focused just on issues that are traditionally within state regulatory bounds," he explained.