President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration garnered a lion’s share of headlines in 2017. But the state’s Republican lawmakers weren’t about to be upstaged by Washington, D.C. on the hot-button issue.
The election of President Donald Trump meant that big changes to how the federal government would enforce immigration laws were coming to the country. But the chants of “Build the Wall” heard at Trump rallies had barely begun to fade when Republican state lawmakers decided that they too would ramp up border security and immigration efforts at the state level. From the Texas Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 4 to the Trump administration’s decision to end the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, immigration dominated headlines, debates and policy in 2017.
1. Senate Bill 4
Even before state lawmakers gaveled in the 85th Texas Legislature in January, they knew it was the year they’d finally pass some version of a bill to outlaw “sanctuary cities” – the term for local governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws. They had been in Republican crosshairs since 2011, though lawmakers were unsuccessful that year, and also in 2015, at passing a bill.
That changed in late April when the Texas House adopted the Senate’s version of Senate Bill 4, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and added a controversial provision that paved the way for local officers to question the immigration status of anyone they detain. As passed, SB 4 also punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000. It also mandates that local entities exchange immigration information they obtain with federal officials.
A bulk of the legislation is currently tied up in a federal appeals court after several cities and counties filed suit to stop its implementation. But some provisions, including the questioning of status and the detainer provision, have been temporarily allowed to take effect, pending a final ruling. It’s unclear when that will come down, but lawmakers still remember the battle that raged in Austin during debate on the bill. Several have said it’s one of the most contentious bills to ever hit the upper and lower chambers and that it’s done permanent damage to some of the relationships between lawmakers who work under the pink dome.
2. The end of DACA
He promised more than once to do it on the campaign trail. Yet many undocumented immigrants and their supporters were stunned when, in October, President Donald Trump announced he was ending the Obama administration’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That program, known as DACA, granted qualified applicants — including about 124,000 Texans — a work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings. The program is set to expire in March. Though many of his most loyal supporters want to see a permanent end to DACA, Trump has conceded that he wants a solution that protects some Dreamers, the term for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as young children. But he’s also stated that he wants more border and immigration enforcement in any legislation that gets to his desk. Despite a push to include a fix in must-pass spending bills debated earlier this month, lawmakers delayed debate on any proposal until next year.
3. The Border Wall
Okay, Mexico isn’t going to pay for it after all.
But that’s one of the few promises about President Trump’s border wall that he won’t be able to keep. his administration moved forward in 2017 with steps to build some sort of physical barrier along the southwest border. In October, Customs and Border Protection announced it had completed eight wall prototypes that would be tested over the next few months. Although the administration eventually conceded that constructing a wall along the entire border isn’t possible, plans to build a barrier along most of it are moving forward. That’s riled up some Texans who point out that, unlike in other border states where the land is federally owned, most of the land in Texas where a border wall could potentially be constructed is on private property. That means landowners who live along the border are bracing for federal agents who want their land to appear at their door.
4. $800 million in state border-security spending, again.
The Texas Legislature approved an initial $800 million boost in border-security spending in 2015. Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican colleagues said then it was necessary for the state to act because the Obama administration was failing in its responsibility to secure the border. They cited the surge of undocumented women and children coming from Central America that began in 2014 as proof.
But despite the Trump Administration’s promise to make border security a priority, Texas lawmakers doled out the same amount in 2017. They said during the 85th legislative session that they couldn’t predict how the Trump White House would approach border security, which they argued justified the spending. Meanwhile, Democrats haven’t quieted in their criticism of the budget, arguing that the initial call for the 2015 expenditure was a result of women and children – not gang members or terrorists – flooding the Texas-Mexico border.
Read related Tribune coverage:
- After years of seeking asylum in U.S., a Mexican reporter and his son just narrowly escaped deportation earlier this month. Their attorney eventually halted the deportation. [Full story]
- In the face of a running political argument over what to do with “Dreamers,” most Texas voters oppose deportation, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. [Full story]
- “The President is determined, first and finally, to build a wall at the border,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a 20-minute speech in downtown Austin in October. [Full story]