Keep Texans safe by securing the Mexican border

Photo by Jacob Villanueva / The Texas Tribune

A new administration is in power in Washington, D.C., and early indications should give Texans confidence that the federal government will finally make border security a priority. However, Texas has been let down by the federal government too many times. Until Washington makes real and measurable progress toward securing our border, the Legislature must fill the void to keep Texans safe.

To that end, I am pursuing a broad agenda that includes prohibiting sanctuary policies, keeping Texas out of the federal refugee resettlement program, giving Texas law enforcement authority to act by making it a violation of state law to be in the country illegally and requiring employers to check immigration status, thereby ending the jobs magnet that attracts illegal immigrants to Texas.

By prohibiting sanctuary policies and punishing the individuals behind them, Senate Bill 4 would uphold the rule of law and keep Texans safe from over 212,000 criminal aliens. Unfortunately, on the same day SB 4 was first debated on the Senate floor, Dallas County passed a symbolic “welcoming community” resolution that is dangerous, irresponsible, and reprehensible. Dallas County leaders are risking lives locally and across our state by taking jabs at the laws they swore an oath to uphold. I immediately called upon Dallas County to rescind its resolution, and I'm proud to share that stand with four mayors in Dallas County. We've also seen deeply troubling reports out of Travis County, where the sheriff is proud of her sanctuary policy. Sadly, this political grandstanding almost resulted in the release of a man who sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl.

The refugee resettlement program is another public policy area where Texas must act. In the 1980s, when my wife was director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities of Dallas, I welcomed refugees to Texas, picked them up at the airport, and personally assisted them.

Today, however, we live in a vastly different and more dangerous world. By federal experts' statements, from what we have seen in Europe, and by terrorists' own admission, we know ISIS wants to exploit the generosity of our refugee program. I support the intent of President Trump’s executive order moratorium on refugee resettlement, but that legal battle is ongoing. That's why I filed Senate Bill 260 to codify Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to withdraw Texas from the refugee resettlement program. Until that program is significantly redesigned to better screen refugees, Texas cannot be complicit.

In 2015, we made an historic appropriation of $800 million to help secure the border. However, some criticize Texas' border security mission as "catch and release" because the federal government holds back our men and women from executing the mission to the best of their ability. That’s unacceptable.

Enforcing immigration law is the responsibility of federal law enforcement, but that does not mean Texas officials should be limited to making a phone call and hoping federal agents show up in a timely manner. This session, the Legislature must give law enforcement officers the authority, under state law, to arrest, detain, and charge individuals who cross our Southern border illegally.

My Senate Bill 280, which reflects the lessons learned from Arizona’s 2010 immigration law, expands current criminal trespass laws to encompass being in our state unlawfully. Texas is a sovereign state with the power to enforce its own laws, and we must empower law enforcement officers with this tool to aid in their fight against illegal immigration.

Finally, the Legislature must end the jobs magnet that attracts illegal immigrants to Texas. E-Verify is a free tool that every Texas employer must use to determine whether workers are complying with federal labor laws that prohibits the employment of individuals who are in our country illegally.

When politicians, sheriffs, school districts, businesses and charities openly support illegal immigrants, it is bad for public safety, an affront to the rule of law and a slap in the face to millions of legal immigrants. These politicians, bureaucrats, and other organizations should be held accountable for the crimes they help foster. They encourage illegal behavior, creating another magnet to draw more illegal immigrants here. Taxpayers owe nothing to people who break our laws by crossing the border illegally. When illegal aliens become criminal aliens by committing additional crimes against Texans, the situation is only made that much more tragic and inexcusable.

Securing the border and providing for a working system of legal immigration are unquestionably federal responsibilities. Yet the federal government has a long track record of spectacular failure.  Until changes are made in Washington, Texas will continue to act to keep Texans safe.

Don Huffines

Former state senator