AUSTIN, Texas – State Sen. Eddie Lucio on Monday offered and then pulled down an amendment to the big border security bill being considered by the state legislature, House Bill 11.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, thanked Lucio for his “graciousness.” The Waco Republican said he would like more time to consider the amendment.

House Bill 11 was heard Monday in the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security. This is what Lucio, D-Brownsville, had to say about his amendment:

“Mr. Chairman, currently, counties along the Texas-Mexico border are in the process of developing an intelligent transportation system. It’s a Texas Transnational Intelligence System in the Valley region. This system uses state of the art technology to monitor our highways and international bridges. Law enforcement at all levels can use this system to track criminal activity.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell
State Sen. Brian Birdwell

“This amendment allows DPS to look into the feasibility of participating in such a system and does not – and I am going to repeat it, it does not – require DPS or any other state agency to spend money.

“This intelligence transportation system has the potential to assist local law enforcement efforts and enhance border security at international border checkpoints. The amendment also outlines the structure of the Texas Transnational Intelligence Centre as a central source of information on real time criminal activity. This structure enhances the center’s ability to provide support in emergency situations and serve as the means of communication for first responders.

At this time I would like to offer this amendment and move its adoption.”

Birdwell’s initial response to the Lucio amendment, which was being called Committee Amendment No.1, was: “I would an opportunity to review and study the amendment. I hesitate to adopt it not knowing the broad impact.”

There was then a four and half minute pause while Birdwell and Lucio privately discussed the amendment. This was followed by the subcommittee standing at ease for 11 minutes so that Birdwell and Lucio could continue to discuss the Lucio amendment.

When the subcommittee reconvened, Lucio said: “Chairman, members, ladies and gentlemen, I had offered an amendment and moved its adoption and it was being discussed. At this time I would like to pull down my amendment and leave it pending.”

Birdwell responded: “Thank you for your graciousness, Senator Lucio. We will continue to work on the issues that face us, particularly those in your district that are so personal and so close to this challenge. You have my commitment that we will continue to work together. I appreciate it, Senator Lucio.”

Birdwell then told the acting chairman of the subcommittee, state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rockwall, that he would like to leave House Bill 11 pending.

Birdwell said he has some concerns about an oversight panel proposed in House Bill 11. “My intention is to work that out today. So, I wish to leave the bill pending until I can work that out on how we handle the oversight piece, Mr. Chairman,” Birdwell said.

Under HB 11, the oversight panel would consist of five members of the Texas Senate appointed by the lieutenant governor, five members of the Texas House appointed by the Speaker, and one public member appointed by the Governor.

The Texas Transnational Intelligence Center referred to by Sen. Lucio has won the support of local law enforcement leaders in South Texas. It would be established jointly by Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and McAllen Police Department to “act as a central repository of real-time intelligence relating to criminal activity in the counties along the Texas-Mexico border.” DPS would assist the county sheriff’s department and the municipal police department in the establishment and operation of the center.

Possibly the most controversial aspect of HB 11 is Section 14 and it involves the smuggling of persons. Elia Mendoza, state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens in Texas, testified against this aspect of the bill on Monday.

“Section 14 of House Bill 11 will encourage racial profiling,” Mendoza said. “Law enforcement has no training or expertise in identifying violations of federal immigration law and will, inevitably, pull people over based on their perception of what an immigrant looks like.”

DPS Director Steve McCraw
DPS Director Steve McCraw

Mendoza said she was called by several people in the Rio Grande Valley to visit Hidalgo and Starr counties to see what was going on. “I was appalled to see what was going on. People were being stopped when they were going to school in the morning and in the afternoon, when they are coming home from school, for the slightest reason just to see who was in the car and what was in the car. The only thing I can say to you is that it was racial profiling. Why, because they were brown.”

Lucio asked Mendoza who was doing this. Mendoza replied the Department of Public Safety.

DPS Director Steve McCraw was invited to respond to Mendoza’s comments by Sen. Birdwell.

“The Department has strict procedures in place to ensure against exactly what she (Mendoza) testified about,” McCraw testified. “A DPS trooper does not stop anybody unless they have a reason to. In fact, the Mexican cartel spies benefit from that because they know we cannot stop them unless we have a reason to do so. We have got to have probable cause, reasonable suspicion.”

McCraw said DPS videotapes each incident. “So, if there is any complaint whatsoever, all a citizen has to do at any time is report that. We pull the tape. We go through it. We investigate it independently through an inspector general. If a trooper, he or she, stops someone without probable cause or a reason to do, we do what I have done in the past. They will be penalized. We are adherents to the Constitution.”