RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – La Unión de Pueblo Entero, ARISE, ACLU of Texas, Texas Civil Rights Project, and Laredo Immigrant Alliance protested outside one of state Rep. Ryan Guillen’s district offices earlier this week. 

They were protesting two pieces of legislation, HB 7 and HB 20, which, they say, are “two of the most anti-immigrant bills in the history of Texas.”

Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. He authored HB 7.

“This morning our members gathered outside Rep. Ryan Guillen office against HB 7 and HB 20. These House bills will continue separating our families, and will significantly increase police surveillance across all Texas,” said Alexis Elicerio, LUPE’s civic engagement organizer.

“These House bills have entered the final steps of the legislation process. It’s important to communicate to our representatives that we won’t tolerate legislation that puts our families in danger. These bills are built on hatred and racism. Join our cause by calling our representatives.”

LUPE has asked their members to call Guillen’s office in protest at his legislation.

Guillen’s HB7 would create separate courts to prosecute immigrants caught under Operation Lone Star.

HB20, authored by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, creates a Citizen Texas Border Patrol Unit under the auspices of the Department of Public Safety. The bill also funds a border wall, and makes trespassing a third degree felony.

The Texas Civil Rights Project issued this analysis of the two bills in question:

“HB 20 creates a new “Border Protection Unit,” (BPU) which has the power to police people “crossing the border” in any part of the state, and the BPU can commission any “law abiding” citizen “without a felony conviction” (i.e., vigilantes) to take part in this enforcement. The chief of this new vigilante force is appointed by and answers to the Governor.

“HB 7 further entrenches this state-run immigration enforcement scheme by creating “border protection” courts to adjudicate offenses charged against people in migration in an entirely separate court system, and quickly shuffle people through this system with little oversight.”

Roberto Lopez, Beyond Borders senior advocacy manager for Texas Civil Rights Project, said: “A new paramilitary force under Governor Greg Abbott, potentially staffed by vigilantes deputized as law enforcement authorities, will provide no ‘protection’ to Texans whatsoever. What is happening in Texas cannot be understated. We have already seen paramilitary organizations operating in border communities, and giving them the power to capture and detain people seeking safety and protection at our borders would create chaos that will endanger the safety of all Texans.

“As they currently stand, the proposals before the legislature do nothing to help border communities, and instead only serve the Governor’s interests – which are to build his political profile by violating federal law in order to play President on federal immigration issues.”

The AFL-CIO of Texas is also opposed to HB 7 and HB 20. Jesus Perales, immigration coordinator for the group, said: 

“HB 20 has been framed as the solution to immigration issues but we know that it is nothing more than a xenophobic attack on communities of color. This bill is an open invitation to trigger-happy white supremacists to join a state-backed vigilante police unit and will undoubtedly lead to harassment and tragic violence. What’s worse is that this bill provides immunity from criminal and civil offenses which indicates that the author is aware that this proposal will lead to racial profiling and violations of civil and constitutional rights. As we have seen with Operation Lone Star, the state’s involvement with immigration enforcement is ineffective, has not achieved any tangible metrics, and has cost Texas taxpayers billions of dollars. By adding a border unit we will only continue the same unproductive and costly cycle.”

Ana Gonzalez, deputy director of politics and policy for the AFL-CIO of Texas, said: 

“I am a proud El Pasoan, growing up in the border defined me as a person. El Paso is one of the safest cities, not in spite of the fact that we’re a city of immigrants, but because we are. HB 20 is the most dangerous, xenophobic, anti-immigrant piece of legislation we’ve ever seen. HB 20 does not make our borders or communities safer, but instead encourages vigilante groups nationwide to travel to Texas and take part in violent operations. This is a direct attack on people of color and immigrants.”

Gonzalez added: “This hateful and false rhetoric of an “invasion” in our border is dangerous. It has cost the lives of thousands of people that come to this county to provide a better future for their families, like mine. It has cost the lives of 23 people killed at the Walmart in my hometown, and if this bill passes it will cost more lives. Instead of passing this bill, the Legislature should focus on humanitarian efforts, and stop building more cages and continue to attack immigrants. Please oppose this bill.”

Rep. Schaefer defended his bill. “The purpose of this bill is to assert the state of Texas’ constitutional authority to defend the sovereignty of our state and to protect our citizens,” Schaefer told the state House’s State Affairs Committee.

Schaefer said the number of migrants crossing into Texas is so great it can be classified an “invasion”. He said that under the Constitution, Texas the right to “self-defense” in cases of foreign invasion.

Editor’s Note: We will post Rep. Guillen’s analysis of HB 7 as soon as it arrives. 

Editor’s Note: The Texas Civil Rights Project has produced two “explainers” that go into more depth on HB 7 and HB 20. Click here to read the one on HB 7. Click here to read the one on HB 20. 

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