PROSPECT HEIGHTS — With Texas on the verge of allowing state police to arrest migrants and order them back across the border, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Migration chair has criticized both the “false narrative” he believes the policy would accentuate, and the hardship it would force on migrants.
“It saddens me,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, the USCCB Migration chair, said of the legislation. “I’m very disappointed in the narrative that is being promoted to this day that people who are fleeing to our border are a threat to us in the first place. It’s just a tremendous misunderstanding of what’s happening.”
Speaking with The Tablet, Bishop Seitz highlighted that unlike federal border authorities, under this legislation Texas police would have the authority to send migrants back across the border without even hearing their asylum claims, which “leaves these people stateless with no way to care for their family.”
The new legislation, Texas House Bill 4 (H.B. 4), passed the State House on Oct. 26. The State Senate already passed its own version of the bill, so with the House’s approval it now goes back to the Senate for the two chambers to agree on a version. Once that happens, the legislation heads to the desk of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature, which he is expected to provide.
In essence, the legislation makes entering the United States between ports of entry a state-level crime, and allows Texas officers to arrest migrants — including asylum seekers — and order them back across the border. That type of immigration enforcement is typically reserved for the federal government, which is in charge of immigration policy pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.
If the Texas legislation passes, it will likely face legal action and head to the courts.
When the legislation was brought forward on the House floor on Oct. 26, tensions ran high. One lawmaker posted a video of State Representative Armando Walle lashing out at Republican lawmakers in a private huddle over the bill, including what he said was a lack of time to debate it.
“Y’all don’t understand the (expletive) that y’all do hurts our community. It hurts us personally. It hurts us. It hurts us to our (expletive) core and y’all don’t understand that,” Walle, a Democrat, said in the video. “Y’all don’t live in our (expletive) skin. Y’all don’t, and that’s what pisses me off.”
State Representative David Spiller, Republican, said when introducing the bill that it is “a humane, logical and efficient approach,” adding that “there is nothing unfair about ordering someone back from where they came if they arrived here illegally.”
The legislation passed on a vote along party lines, 86-64.
Separately from the arrest bill, the Texas House also approved on Oct. 26 an additional $1.5 billion for the state to use to expand the existing border wall. On Oct. 27, Abbott touted the moves on X, formerly Twitter, saying “Great progress on border security in the Texas Legislature this week.”
The legislative measures come as the U.S. continues to face a record immigration crisis.
The situation has led Abbott to take matters into his own hands and push the limits of state-level immigration enforcement. Under his border security program, known as Operation Lone Star, he has bussed migrants out of the state to sanctuary cities, created his own barriers both on land and on the Rio Grande River, and deployed the Texas National Guard.
While he disagrees with the actions and rhetoric of some Texas lawmakers, Bishop Seitz acknowledged that the federal government, specifically Congress, “bears a great deal of responsibility” for the nation’s immigration challenges by “keeping in place a broken system.” He added that much of the present crisis is created by the fact that migrants can’t get work authorization.
“We are creating much of the crisis that people are speaking about because we’re not allowing those who are in the asylum process, who have been paroled legally into this country, to work while they’re waiting,” Bishop Seitz said. “There’s so many jobs out there, and these immigrants are so frustrated because they would love to support their family. They’re not looking for a handout. They’re just looking for a chance to support their family in security and peace.”
He also said a better job can be done of spreading out the migrants who are legally allowed to stay.
“Immigrants who are coming now don’t, as in the past, have sponsors, so they also don’t know the United States and they’re simply requesting to go to one of the cities they’ve heard of before, and so we certainly need to work with them and let them know about other places that are in a better situation to receive them and have the desires of receiving them,” Bishop Seitz said. “Our country’s big. We have so much need for workers right now. We are capable.”
When asked about the border funding, Bishop Seitz sighed, and noted the fact that state leaders often talk about the lack of funds to areas such as education and the foster care system.
“Yet, we’re spending billions of dollars on a state level for things that really have little to no impact on immigration,” Bishop Seitz said. “It’s just very sad to see that money thrown away.”