The Texas State Legislature is proposing a new bill that would essentially replace National Guard troops currently serving at the southern border with the "Texas Border Force," a new organization attached to the state's iconic Texas Rangers, the Houston Chronicle reported Saturday.
Created by Republican state Sen. Brian Birdwell, the new "Border Force" would consolidate enforcement at the border under the Department of Public Safety and be overseen by the Texas Rangers, the report said.
Currently Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is using National Guard troops and other officers from around the state to patrol the southern border under the state's "Operation Lone Star" to deal with the surge of illegal migrants coming across the border, according to the Chronicle.
The new division would help ease the burden on troops that have been assigned to the border under active duty for months at a time.
"[State officials] have asked an immense amount of our National Guard forces," Birdwell told the news outlet. "I expect [the new division] would be permanent for the foreseeable future. It certainly depends on if the federal government ebbs and flows in its fidelity to the federal law."
Texas state House Democrats previously killed a bill forming the new division, but the program was "folded" into a bill that helps fund the court system dealing with the record number of illegal migrants, that may be more likely to pass, the report said.
The current version of the bill also expands penalties regarding "illegal entry" into the state from a foreign nation as a felony with those convicted the first time facing up to a year in jail, with harsher penalties for those with multiple convictions.
According to the report, the new version does not go into detail about who can join the division, or how large it would be, but would get its funding out of the $4.6 billion in border security funds the Republicans are expected to approve over the next two years.
While this would allow the current National Guard troops to return home, the legislation would allow for a "written agreement" with DPS and the Texas Military Department, which includes the Guard, to assign its members to the border.
Texas Civil Rights Project activist Roberto Lopez told the news outlet that he is concerned "deputized citizens" who act like "vigilantes" would be able to join the division, endangering the migrants and citizens.
"I can tell you that, as someone who was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, that terrifies me," the newspaper reported Lopez saying before the Senate Border Security Committee hearing on the legislation. "I implore y'all to please stop what you're doing."
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