House GOP Rams Through Immigrant Bill
that Dems Brand as Racist Circumvention
November 14, 2023
Texas House Republicans abandoned a short-lived crusade against racists in the GOP on Tuesday when they decided to cater to them instead according to Democrats with a migrant deportation measure they pushed through on Tuesday night in a vote that unfolded exclusively along partisan lines.
The House approved the sweeping immigration plan in Senate Bill 4 on an 83-61 vote almost 10 hours of debate on the proposal and a separate measure that will clear the way for an additional $1.5 billion in spending on border wall construction.
The bill will be headed now to Governor Greg Abbott after Republicans defeated all of two dozen Democratic amendments before a final vote.
SB 4 would give state and local police the power to arrest people for a new crime of illegal alien entry - a misdemeanor for the initial offense with enhancements that raise the bar to a felony. The bill also gives magistrate judges like a justice of the peace the ability to order a migrant to return to Mexico in lieu of prosecution and eventual deportation after a stretch prison.
GOP State Rep. David Spiller of Jacksboro assured colleagues that SB 4 was constitutional and devoid of elements that would conflict with federal law. Spiller spent eight hours defending the bill against stinging criticism by Democrats without any assistance at the front mike from fellow Republicans.
A second-term representative who's an attorney, Spiller was a key source of advice earlier this year on the House's failed attempt to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton. Spiller's designation as the chief author for the border security bill appeared to be a reward from GOP Speaker Dade Phelan for his counsel on Paxton.
Democrats branded the Spiller bill as an un-American assault on people who are suffering and coming to the U.S. to escape political persecution with the promise of certain death if they return. Democrats said SB 4 was blatantly unconstitutional and steaming with racist motivation and intent. State Rep. Josey Garcia - a combat veteran from San Antonio - told the House that it would "empowering" white supremacists and picking on people who desperately need America's help.
Phelan had banned the use of the word racism during the debate on an elections bill two years ago to soothe bruised sensibilities of some House Republicans who were offended when Democrats referred to them as racists. But the Republicans made no attempt on the floor on Tuesday to refute or to deny accusations of racism that they slapped repeatedly on SB 4.
Phelan launched a bid to clean up anti-Semitic and racist behavior in the Republican Party at the start of a third special session early last month in the midst of a furor on a meeting that white supremacist Nick Fuentes had with some Defend Texas Liberty PAC operatives. The speaker's team had faced a hurricane of criticism for several weeks on the Paxton case that ended with his acquittal in the Senate on September 16.
The Fuentes appearance appeared to be a desperation red herring that proved to be fairly effective for a couple of weeks. Phelan and top lieutenants demanded that House Republicans identify money they'd received from DTL and its associates in the past and to give it away to a worthy cause or charity. The push appeared to fizzle after an anemic response from GOP representatives who would need the money for primary challenges that many will draw as a result of votes for Paxton's impeachment.
But Phelan communications director Cait Wittman rekindled the attacks on DTL on Monday in response to a Houston Chronicle piece on some Republicans ripping Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi on his silence in connection with the Fuentes meeting in Fort Worth. Wittman said DTL had been the state party's largest singular contributor this year after giving more than $332,000 so far.
The speaker and his GOP allies offered no apologies or denials - however - when Democrats portrayed SB 4 today in the same light as neo-Nazis like Fuentes.
They voted to cut off the debate instead with repeated votes against motion to extend the time of representatives speaking against the bill.
The measure - despite Spiller's assurances - appears to have little or no chance in the federal courts where it will be headed immediately after its passage in a fourth special session this month. SB 4 would preempt federal law and interfere with the U.S. government's enforcement of immigration law as a clear-cut federal responsibility.
SB 4 appears to be more of a bone to primary voters who've grown substantially more conservative in recent years - with its odds for judicial survival irrelevant in the eyes of the House Republicans in spite of the author's claims.
Republican State Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury called the measure unconstitutional after Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick replaced him as the border bill sponsor.
The House approved the border barrier funding in SB 3 on an 84-59 vote.
more to come ...