Border Patrol requests change to Texas penal code to allow agents to enforce state law

Niki Griswold, Austin American-Statesman
Wed, November 16, 2022 at 7:02 AM

Two U.S. Border Patrol officials requested Tuesday that the Texas Legislature change the state’s code of criminal procedure to add U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to a list of more than 15 federal agencies that are authorized to enforce state law in areas beyond official ports of entry.

Chief Carl Landrum and Assistant Chief Col. Max Lopez, both of the Laredo sector of U.S. Border Patrol, made the request to expand their agents’ jurisdiction in testimony given Tuesday at a hearing for the Texas Senate Committee on Border Security.

“Right now, we are in a situation that is overwhelming,” Landrum told state lawmakers Tuesday. “The men and women that are down there, doing the job, providing the border security that is necessary for this country and for the state of Texas, are doing everything they can possibly do. And we identified an opportunity where we could make an amendment ... that would actually help us.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

More:Gov. Abbott shifts $875 million to border operations, school security

According to Article 2.122 of the Texas code of criminal procedure, agents with 18 federal agencies — including the FBI, Secret Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — have the power of arrest, search, and seizure if they suspect a person has committed a felony in violation of state law.

However, based on current state law, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials only have the authority to detain a person — if they’re suspected of either public intoxication, driving while intoxicated, intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter — at official ports of entry or permanent border patrol traffic checkpoints.

“This limits us greatly to these designated locations — these enclaves where most of the manpower is not located at,” Landrum said.

In response to Senate committee members’ questioning, Landrum and Lopez said amending state law to allow Border Patrol agents' jurisdiction to expand would facilitate a more effective state-federal partnership to secure the southern border.

More:Fentanyl deaths are up, but GOP ads mislead by blaming ‘open borders’

Gov. Greg Abbott, shown at a border news conference last year in Mission, has touted Operation Lone Star’s successes, but the border security effort has faced significant criticism.

Border security has been one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities, culminating in the Operation Lone Star initiative, which has cost the state more than $4 billion since its launch in March 2021.

The program deployed thousands of Texas National Guard troops and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to the border to tackle a sharp increase in illegal immigration, drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Abbott has touted the program’s successes — hundreds of thousands of migrant arrests and illegal drug seizures — but the operation has faced significant criticism since reports surfaced that troops were experiencing delays in pay, insufficient equipment and plummeting morale, and that several had died by suicide.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is a federal agency, and immigration enforcement is under federal jurisdiction. But under Operation Lone Star, Abbott has directed state law enforcement to take a controversial approach to "catch and jail" migrants on state criminal trespassing charges. Democrats and immigrant rights groups have slammed the program for violating migrants’ right to seek asylum in the U.S.

More:Greg Abbott delivers acceptance speech after winning third term as Texas governor

On Tuesday, several representatives from immigrant rights organizations held a news conference before testifying in front of the Senate committee, condemning Operation Lone Star and its impact on border communities.

“The reality of it is that programs like Operation Lone Star have been meant to profile people of color,” said Tania Chavez Camacho, director of nonprofit La Union del Pueblo Entero. “COVID relief funds that could have been used for medical care, for better programs in schools are now being used to criminalize people of color along the U.S. Mexican border.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Border Patrol asks Texas to allow agents to enforce state law