Gov. Greg Abbott says these bills will make the border more secure. Others are in limbo

Eleanor Dearman

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday highlighted new immigration laws he says will increase security on the Texas-Mexico border, as a proposal to create a 10-year minimum penalty for human smuggling is stalled in the Legislature.

“I’m signing bills today to ensure that Texas will be able to do even more to stop illegal immigrants from crossing into our state,” he said.

But Abbott said there’s more to be done when he included border security among his call for a special legislative session that began on May 29, just hours after the regular session ended.

In addition to property tax relief, he said lawmakers should pass “legislation solely for the purpose of increasing or enhancing the penalties for certain criminal conduct involving the smuggling of persons or the operation of a stash house.” The call came after lawmakers failed to pass a sweeping border security bill, House Bill 7.

The House quickly came in on May 30, passed a new immigration bill and property tax bill, and adjourned the same day. Senators have remained in Austin as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan clash over the best way to deliver school property tax cuts.

The Senate on Wednesday continued to pass several bills, despite the lack of House lawmakers in Austin to advance proposals to Abbott’s desk.

House Bill 2 would create a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for human smuggling and the operation of a stash house. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill Wednesday that is subject to House approval because of the changes.

The Senate also passed immigration bills outside the scope of Abbott’s special session agenda. Senate Bill 2 by Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican, establishes a new state crime for illegally entering Texas. Senate Bill 8 by Birdwell would create a “Texas Border Force.”

The proposals must also be passed by the House before going to Abbott, meaning they’ll not go any further during this special session, unless the House were to return. Patrick suggested in a Tuesday news conference that the House could still come back to continue work before the session expires.

Abbott ceremonially signed six immigration bills Thursday. Among the new laws is a bill to give border patrol agents arrest, search and seizure authority. Another defines drug cartels as “foreign terrorist organizations” under state law. Another bill would compensate landowners for property damage from border-crimes related to human smuggling or trafficking, evading arrest or drug-related offenses.

Abbott also announced that the state would install a barrier made of buoys along parts of the Rio Grande River on the Texas-Mexico border, the first of which will be 1,000 feet long in Eagle Pass. That stretch costs “under a million dollars,” said Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw.

“When we’re dealing with gatherings of a hundred or a thousand people, one of the goals is to slow down and deter as many of them as possible,” Abbott said.