Texas legislator defends new law allowing police to arrest migrants who entered illegally

A new Texas law makes it a state crime to illegally cross the southern border into Texas. In the past, courts have ruled that only the federal government has the right to enforce immigration laws and civil rights have already sued to challenge the law. Stephanie Sy discussed more with state Rep. David Spiller, the Texas Republican who sponsored the bill.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    With migrant encounters along the Southwest border at near record numbers, both Democrats and Republicans agree something needs to be done to fix the U.S. immigration system.

    A bipartisan group in the Senate continues to negotiate on a border security bill, while border state governors are grappling with the on-the-ground impact.

    Last week, Arizona's Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs dispatched the National Guard to the border. And, yesterday, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a controversial new law aimed at curbing illegal immigration.

    That, as Stephanie Sy explains, will likely set up a battle with the federal government.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The new Texas law makes it a state crime to illegally cross the border from Mexico into Texas. Offenders could face up to six months in jail, but state judges can also drop the charges if a migrant agrees to return to the country they entered from.

    While the Biden administration has implemented policies to beef up personnel on the border and expedite removals, Governor Abbott believes it hasn't done enough.

  • Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX):

    Biden's deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In the past, courts have ruled that only the federal government has the right to enforce immigration laws. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project have already filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

    Texas Republican State Representative David Spiller sponsored this bill and joins us now.

    Representative, thank you so much for your time.

    A lot of legal experts are saying this law is unconstitutional. A group of 30 former immigration judges, in fact, issued a statement recently saying that the legislation would — quote — "allow a state court magistrate judge to issue a removal order. That is not lawful. Immigration is plainly a federal function."

    Sir, they question the point of this law. And I guess I have the same question.

  • State Rep. David Spiller (R-TX):

    Well, the point of the law is, the law has become necessary because the Biden administration has failed and refused to secure our border and enforce federal immigration law. That's the purpose of the bill.

    Were it not for that, we wouldn't be dealing with this. I would be dealing with other issues and I wouldn't be spending my time dealing with securing our border and dealing with immigration law. But because of that failure, then Texans have to protect Texas. And that's what S.B.4 does. And I believe — I respectfully disagree with what some of these so-called experts say.

    I believe it's completely constitutional for several reasons.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    What makes you say it's constitutional, given that the last time the Supreme Court looked at this was in the Arizona v. U.S. case, in which they struck down most of Arizona's argument that local law enforcement can enforce immigration law?

  • State Rep. David Spiller:

    Well, that's a fair question.

    S.B.4 is what we have passed here in Texas. I believe it is constitutional for several reasons. First, it's not in conflict with that Arizona v. U.S. case. The things that Arizona tried to do in 2010 that's the subject of that case were completely different than what we have done here.

    We have tried to stay away from those problem areas. And the problem areas that Arizona dealt with were areas that had already been preempted. So, we have stayed away from that. We're also not preempted in here federal law, because, again, preemption is kind of a tricky process.

    But preemption — the presumption under the Arizona case is that something is not preempted unless the burden of proof can be met to show that it is. And so we have stayed away from those areas that have been preempted.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Some would say that the Texas law actually goes beyond Arizona's law, because, in the Arizona case, those that were apprehended would be turned over to federal authorities.

    Critics of this law say that what you're establishing in Texas is your own deportation system, that you're giving magistrates, Texas magistrates, the authority to deport potentially asylum seekers.

  • State Rep. David Spiller:

    We're not.

    First of all, there's a distinction. We're not deporting anyone. We're ordering them to return. And it's not unfair to ask someone to go back to where they came from if they got here illegally. And so there's a distinction there. And I think there's a legal distinction. We're not getting into deportation.

    Actually, if you look at the U.S. Constitution, the word immigration and giving Congress the authority to regulate immigration is not in there. You can look long and hard. It talks about naturalization, but it doesn't talk about immigration, two different things entirely.

    So I believe that we have the ability to do that.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    How does a local or state policeman practically enforce this law? If it's not a "show me your papers" kind of enforcement, how will they know who to apprehend, unless they are literally seen crossing the border illegally?

  • State Rep. David Spiller:

    Well, I think most of them will be literally seeing crossing the border illegally.

    I think — I believe and I have said that I thought that 95 percent of the enforcement for illegal entry will occur within 50 miles of the border. That's not to say that people in Texarkana or Dallas or Houston or up in the Panhandle may not — there may be circumstances where they can ascertain or law enforcement can determine that they have crossed illegally, where they somehow know who crossed, when they crossed, where they crossed.

    And bear in mind, it's a misdemeanor. The statute of limitation for all misdemeanors in Texas is two years. So we're not looking at rounding people up, what Arizona tried to do, rounding people up that have been here for years. We're not looking to put someone's grandmother in jail or deport her that's been here for 50 years.

    That's not what S.B.4 does.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Critics say this law is going to mean anyone that looks Latino or Black has a higher risk of being accosted by law enforcement.

    How are you going to address that concern, especially given that 40 percent of your state is Latino?

  • State Rep. David Spiller:

    Well, I think that shows how silly that argument is, quite frankly. And, quite frankly, it's offensive.

    How can you — we are a country of immigrants. How can you tell by looking at anyone whether they crossed here illegally or when they did so or where they crossed? You can't. And law enforcement can't determine that. There are things that law enforcement can determine. But there are things that not — so what Arizona did was, show me your papers.

    There's no requirement to show any papers whatsoever. The question is, can the law enforcement officer prove and prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that each and every element of that offense for illegal entry has been proven? And, if so, fine, they can be prosecuted for that.

    But, otherwise, there is no probable cause to believe that someone just, because they may look different or — the other thing is, we're getting people, I mean, crossing illegally into Texas from over 100 countries around the world. This is not about Hispanic people. It's not about Black people. It's about people entering our country illegally.

    And we are trying to do our best to address the problem. And we're having to address the problem because the federal government refuses to do so.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Representative David Spiller, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour."

  • State Rep. David Spiller:

    Stephanie, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

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