Led by tough talkers Republican governors weighing the presidential candidacy, Texas and Florida are debating particularly tough border security legislation as the GOP tests federal immigration authority.
The moves in the two GOP-controlled state houses come amid polarization in Congress, making any national immigration legislation seem unlikely as president Joe Biden is trying to reduce the number of migrants arriving at the border while eyeing his own re-election bid.
The Texas Republican proposals build on Gov. Greg Abbott’s $4 billion “Operation Lone Star,” which would build additional barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and transport migrants to Democratic-led cities, including Washington, D.C. Columbia, and New York. Abbott’s aides confirm he is considering a run for president.
Operation Lone Star has already added more officers to the Texas-Mexico border to apprehend migrants trespassing on private property. Now, Texas lawmakers have proposed creating a new border police force that could replace private citizens and make entering the state without a permit a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“Texas is taking historic action to secure the border and stop the assault of guns, drugs and cartels on our state,” Abbott said in a tweet this week. “As President Biden Abandons His Constitutional Duty, Texas Continues to Rise.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is considered to be Donald Trump’s strongest rival in next year’s presidential primaries, has proposed making human smuggling in the state a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Hospitals will be required to collect data on patients’ immigration status, and people who are in the U.S. illegally will be denied government IDs.
“Texas and Florida are places with politically ambitious governors who hope to use immigrants to further their agendas,” said attorney Tanya Brodeur of the National Immigration Law Center, which focuses on immigrant rights.
Despite the tough rhetoric, Brodeur said progress on immigrant rights has been quietly made in recent years.
State-level organizing has improved immigrants’ access to health care, higher education, occupational and driver’s licenses, according to a recent study co-authored by Brodeur.
The study notes that Colorado became the first state to introduce an unemployment insurance alternative for excluded workers. Arizona voters last year approved in-state tuition for all students who attended an in-state high school, regardless of their immigration status.
Abbott and DeSantis blame Biden for the large increase in illegal crossings into the US last year. But a sharp drop in illegal crossings this year could dampen GOP attacks on Biden’s handling of the border. The sharp drop along the southwest border followed the Biden administration’s announcement of tougher immigration measures.
The US Border Patrol said it encountered 128,877 migrants trying to cross the border between legal points of entry in February, the lowest monthly number since February 2021. Agents detained migrants more than 2.5 million times at the southern border in 2022, including more than 250,000 in December, the highest on record.
“Florida will not turn a blind eye to the dangers of Biden’s border crisis,” DeSantis said in a tweet last month announcing the Florida legislation. “We are proposing additional steps to protect Floridians from this reckless federal policy, including mandatory electronic background checks and a ban on local governments issuing IDs to illegal aliens.”
While authorities in Texas and Florida have been buzzing about their border-hardening efforts, Arizona, home to some of the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant laws, has seen no major immigration legislation this year.
Arizona’s Show Me Your Documents law, passed in 2010, required law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of a person stopped or arrested if officers suspect the person may be in the U.S. illegally. The practice, detractors said, encouraged racial profiling. Courts eventually struck down several provisions of the law.
Arizona’s Republican lawmakers are standing up to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hobbs, who this year vetoed a GOP-backed budget and bill that would have banned the teaching of what the authors described as “critical race theory” to schoolchildren.
New Mexico, which also shares a border with Mexico, has been steadily removing barriers for undocumented migrants to access government benefits, student financial aid and professional credential licensing since 2021.
After taking office in 2019, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham withdrew most of the National Guard troops her Republican predecessor had sent to the border, denouncing the “fear-mongering charade at the border.”
The New Mexico legislature is also controlled by Democrats. However, lawmakers this week rejected a proposal to bar state and local governments from contracting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants while they seek asylum.
In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers launched a new effort last month to require sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration agents interested in rounding up some inmates believed to be in the U.S. illegally. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper twice vetoed earlier versions of the measure, but since then the Republican majority in the General Assembly has grown.
A similar effort in Idaho has so far failed to move beyond legislative introduction.
Immigration-related laws in other states include:
— A Georgia bill that has not advanced would provide public college tuition for immigrant students who came to the U.S. as children and are protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Bills are being advanced that would bar companies and certain people from certain foreign countries from buying farmland within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of any military base.
— A Colorado bill aims to allow immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are protected from deportation to own firearms so they can become law enforcement officers.
By Associated Press Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; Brandon Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida: Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Jesse Bedine in Denver; and Rebecca Boone of Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.