PHOENIX — Texas and Florida, led by tough-talking Republican governors weighing presidential races, are debating especially tough border security legislation as the Republican Party tests federal authority over immigration.
The moves in the two GOP-controlled state houses come against a backdrop of polarization in Congress that makes any national immigration legislation seem unlikely, as President Joe Biden tries to reduce immigrant arrivals at the border while look at his own re-election bid.
Republican proposals in Texas build on Gov. Greg Abbott’s $4 billion Operation Lone Star project, building more barriers along the US-Mexico border and transporting immigrants to Democratic-led cities , including Washington, DC and New York. Abbott’s aides confirm that he is considering a run for president.
Operation Lone Star has already added more officers along the Texas-Mexico border to stop immigrants trespassing on private property. Now, Texas lawmakers have proposed creating a new border police force that could deputize private citizens, as well as making it a state crime to enter the state without authorization, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“Texas is taking historic steps to secure the border and stop guns, drugs and cartels from attacking our state,” Abbott said in a tweet this week. “As President Biden abandons his constitutional duty, Texas continues to move forward.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered Donald Trump’s strongest possible Republican challenger so far 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 would be required to collect data on patients’ immigration status, and people in the US illegally would be denied state government identification cards.
“Texas and Florida are places with politically ambitious governors who hope to use immigrants to further their agendas,” said attorney Tanya Broder of the National Immigration Law Center, which promotes immigrant rights.
Despite the hardline rhetoric, Broder said that progress on immigrant rights has been made quietly in recent years.
Statewide organizing has improved immigrant access to health care, higher education, professional licenses and driver’s licenses, according to a recent study co-authored by Broder.
The study noted that Colorado became the first state to enact an alternative to unemployment insurance for excluded workers. Arizona voters last year approved in-state tuition for all students who attended high school in the state, regardless of immigration status.
Abbott and DeSantis blame Biden for a big spike last year in illegal crossings into the US But a drop this year in the number of illegal crossings could throw cold water on the GOP’s attacks on its handling of the issues border crossings by Biden. The sharp drop along the southwest border followed the Biden administration’s announcement of tougher immigration measures.
The US Border Patrol said it encountered migrants 128,877 times trying to cross the border between legal ports of entry in February, the lowest monthly number since February 2021. Agents apprehended 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 the Biden border crisis,” DeSantis said in a tweet last month when announcing the Florida legislation. “We propose additional measures to protect Floridians from these reckless federal policies, including mandatory electronic verification and a ban on local government issuing identification cards to illegal aliens.”
As officials in Texas and Florida rampage their border-tightening efforts, no major immigration legislation has emerged this year in Arizona, where some of the country’s toughest laws targeting immigrants have been crafted.
Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, passed in 2010, required law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of a person stopped or arrested if officers suspected the person may be in the US illegally, a practice which, according to detractors, encouraged racial discrimination. The courts eventually struck down several of the provisions of the law.
Arizona Republican lawmakers are up against Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who this year vetoed a GOP-backed budget and a bill that prohibits teaching children in public schools what its authors describe as “critical theory of race”.
New Mexico, which also shares a border with Mexico, has steadily removed barriers for immigrants without legal status to access public benefits, student financial aid, and licenses in accredited professions since 2021.
After taking office in 2019, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham withdrew most of the National Guard troops her Republican predecessor sent to the border, denouncing a “border scare-mongering hoax.”
The New Mexico Legislature is also controlled by Democrats. However, lawmakers this week rejected a proposal to bar state and local government agencies from contracting with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants seeking asylum.
In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers last month launched a new effort to require sheriffs to cooperate with interested federal immigration agents in detaining certain inmates believed to be in the United States illegally. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper twice vetoed earlier versions of the measure, but Republican majorities in the General Assembly have since increased.
A similar effort from Idaho has so far failed to make it past its legislative introduction.
Immigration related legislation in other states includes:
— A failed Georgia bill that would grant in-state college tuition to immigrant students who came to the US as children and who are protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Bills are moving forward that would bar companies and some individuals from certain foreign countries from buying farmland within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of any military base.
— A Colorado bill intended to allow immigrants who came to the US as children and are protected from deportation to own a firearm so they can become law enforcement officers.
Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida: Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Jesse Bedayn in Denver; and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.