AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As the state’s largest county deals with already-overcrowded jails, some county leaders are concerned the legislature’s latest proposal to prosecute illegal immigration could incarcerate even more nonviolent residents and increase the cost of housing inmates.
House Bill 4 would create a new state crime for illegally entering Texas from a foreign nation, punishable by a Class B misdemeanor or state jail felony for repeat offenders. In a county of immigrants like Harris County, Commissioner Adrian Garcia worries the bill could target nonviolent immigrants and further burden local jails.
“It is going to make things worse, and we at the local level will ultimately end up footing the bill for it,” Commissioner Garcia told Nexstar on Thursday. “This will just shut down jail operations and create a greater public safety concern versus focusing on violent and dangerous criminals.”
Garcia, who served as Harris County Sheriff from 2009 to 2015, said the Sheriff’s Office is already one of the county’s top expenses and overcrowded facilities cost them even more.
His office said the county has had to outsource about 300 inmates per month on average, at the cost of almost $40 million in the last year alone.
“All that means is a tax increase to local citizens to try to cover the cost of this crazy operation,” he said.
The odds of this bill passing, however, are looking increasingly slim. The House and Senate are moving further apart on their preferred version of the bill with just days to go in the third special session.
At issue is the House’s proposal to allow law enforcement officers to voluntarily deport suspected illegal immigrants in lieu of arrest. The House argues that will, in effect, make them somebody else’s problem rather than paying to house them in Texas jails.
But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday compared that option to a “Texas-sized catch-and-release bill.”
“This policy would allow unidentified hardened criminals and terrorists to slip through the cracks and cross the border over and over again,” Patrick wrote on X Thursday.
House Speaker Dade Phelan has shown no willingness to accept the Senate’s version, calling the original House Bill 4 “the strongest border legislation that has ever been passed out of the House.”
“The Senate’s response to the threat of illegal immigration is to establish a long-term, state-funded hospitality program for illegal immigrants, rather than deploying immediate and effective deterrents,” Speaker Phelan said Thursday.
If the two chambers cannot agree by Wednesday, they will have to start over — assuming the Governor calls lawmakers back for a fourth special session.