Texas House committee discusses border bills

A Texas House committee is considering legislation that would create and fund a state border enforcement unit.

Governor Greg Abbott made border security his top priority in this legislative session, declaring an "invasion" by illegal border crossers.

The proposed state police unit would likely test the legal limits of state control over immigration, which is a power only granted to the federal government.

The state affairs committee got underway around 12:30 p.m.

The chair has set a four-hour testimony limit per bill as of 9 p.m., they aren't even to the bill most people want to testify on. That may give you a sense of how late of a night it'll be.

Protests got underway at the Texas Capitol as early as 9 a.m. with organizations specifically critical of two pieces of legislation.

Perhaps the most attention was directed at House Bill 20, which would create a border protection unit.

More than 300 people have signed up to testify. An overwhelming majority were against it.

The bill would create a new law enforcement agency within DPS.

The governor would appoint its chief, and the chief would have the power to employ officers but also to "employ law-abiding citizens that could be involved in operations and functions."

Critics equate it to vigilantism. 

The bill’s author disagrees and says it would be a full-time force to address a full-time problem at the border.

Critics have also been speaking out against House Bill 7. 

The bill’s author removed a provision that would have created a separate court system for border cases that have overwhelmed some counties, and instead create a program that supports the existing court system.

"The judicial system, law enforcement and other public services maintained in large part by local taxpayer dollars, are stretched thin as they shoulder the brunt of the impact, adversely affecting the services provided to these communities and these families," said Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City).

"This bill incentives making as much, a huge percentage of your docket border-related offenses because that's where the money is," said Erin Thorn, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

These bills are still in the committee phase with more changes to be made.