TEXAS VIEW: Texas border security measures are necessary

THE POINT: State border bills need to complement federal action.

In the absence of federal immigration reform, it is reasonable for states to look for different law enforcement mechanisms — provided they are acting constitutionally — to increase border security measures. States such as Texas that face immigrant surges are right to implement new strategies and laws to secure the border.

A host of border bills that passed in the regular legislative session were signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month. Some of them provide a stronger legal framework to Operation Lone Star, a $4 billion security initiative launched by the governor in 2021. Abbott also signed bills that would reinforce intelligence sharing with other states and beef up the training of Department of Public Safety troopers.

The current special session is focusing on two important border-related initiatives: the creation of a border police force and enhanced human smuggling penalties.

On the latter, the Legislature is increasing punishments for human trafficking, operating stash houses or evading arrests. Proposed prison terms for human smuggling range from five to 10 years, but even 15 years under certain circumstances.

The language used in these bills, so far, does not contradict federal law and does not penalize good Samaritans who help migrants. That distinction should ease some concerns from immigrant activists.

Stiffer prison terms are rarely a crime deterrent, but creating harsher penalties is appropriate given the abuse smugglers often inflict on those they are bringing across the border. Last year, dozens of migrants died inside an overheated tractor-trailer, a devastating reminder of the consequences of this crime.

The creation of the Texas Border Force is a positive progression from Operation Lone Star. It would provide the required training for border enforcement that neither state troopers nor the Texas National Guard has. It also includes plans to work in coordination with local and federal law enforcement.

Importantly, in both the Senate and House bills, the border unit would operate under the authority of the Texas Rangers. This is a more sensible approach than the creation of a vigilante force that was floated in the regular session. The state must have a professional law enforcement presence to legitimize its border security work.

Abbott also recently announced the use of chained buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande to deter migrants from crossing. The first 1,000-foot-long set of barriers will be placed in Eagle Pass. This was an idea that came from federal Border Patrol, DPS Director Steve McCraw told reporters. Border Patrol also conducted tests to make sure there was minimal risk of harming migrants. Physical barriers have long been part of border enforcement and securing parts of the river is reasonable.

Texas does not have the luxury of waiting for the Biden administration to enforce border security. These measures are reasonable and fair, and we support them while we await federal reform.

The Dallas Morning News