The state legislature is currently considering a bill that would undermine the ability of law enforcement agencies to provide for the safety of the communities they serve.

HB 11, and its companion bill in the Senate SB 3, is making its way through the legislative process. HB 11 passed out of a House committee this week and SB 3 will come up in Senate committee next week.

Problems with the Legislation

HB 11/SB 3 includes a provision that would authorize law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. The bill puts enforcement of federal immigration law in the context of targeting smugglers, but the fact of the matter is that it opens the door to police asking for papers.

Smuggling is wrong and puts lives at danger for profit, and a variety of crime reduction strategies are available to address the issue. This bill uses none of these strategies. Instead, it includes provisions that would make fighting human smuggling more difficult. The bill turns the ‘Smuggling of Person’ offense into a pre-text for law enforcement to ask Texans about their immigration status. Encouraging law enforcement to engage in immigration enforcement makes our communities less safe because people fear reporting crime, which in turn works against the interest of investigating smuggling.

Additionally, the bill would encourage racial profiling because 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.

The bill as a whole is based on a border ‘crisis’ that is not real. Crime rates for border communities in Texas, such as El Paso, Laredo, and in the Rio Grande Valley, are consistently below statewide averages. Moreover, immigrants are nearly 30 percent less of the state’s prison population than they are of Texas as a whole. And, cartel-related violence has dropped dramatically in Mexico, and has never had any widespread spillover into Texas. There simply is no substance to the widespread fear of the border.

HB 11/SB 3 will waste hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on a crisis that does not exist, while ignoring real problems with criminal activity in the Texas interior. The highest crime rates in Texas are not on the border—they are in communities like Galveston, Midland-Odessa, Waco, and Corpus Christi, which are ignored by this legislation and by this legislature. These are the places that need additional resources to combat crime. Wasting resources on a non-existent crisis on the border and ignoring high-need areas of the state make the state as a whole less safe.

Real Solutions

Fortunately, there are real solutions to increase public safety. Rather than advancing a bill that would make our communities more dangerous, the Texas Legislature should instead focus on proven strategies that increase the safety of all Texans:

·        Provide more resources to county and local law enforcement. County and local law enforcement agencies understand the needs and customs of their communities and are better positioned to provide for their safety.
·        Protect victims of crime and human trafficking without regard to immigration status.
·        Pass legislation that allows immigrants to access Texas roads legally and safely, regardless of the immigration documents they possess, to allow for immigrants to drive without fear of being stopped and deported by police and so that police can verify the identity of drivers.
·        Increase oversight and accountability of the Department of Public Safety, including allowing local stakeholders to provide input into department strategies and campaigns, as well as requiring training on civil and human rights, and the customs of local communities.
·        Focus on crime-fighting strategies that build trust between local communities and law enforcement and increase crime reporting by victims, witnesses and the general public.

If the state legislature is serious about combating smuggling and organized crime, the emphasis should be put on:

·        Working with local communities on strategies designed to increase crime reporting by victims, witnesses and the general public,
·        Supporting training on human smuggling and human trafficking for state and local law enforcement,
·        Developing a strong relationship with the community in order to facilitate identifying way stations and stash houses,
·        Creating metrics that allow assessment of the effectiveness of state and local law enforcement operations in combating human smuggling, human trafficking, and organized crime, and
·        Targeting resources toward proven strategies that reduce human smuggling – for example, by de-emphasizing low level traffic stops and other enforcement strategies that do not target organized crime.

We all have a stake in keeping Texas safe for everyone. The Texas Legislature should look at proven strategies to increase public safety, rather than using a non-existent border ‘ crisis’ to pit law enforcement against the communities they are meant to serve.