AUSTIN (Nexstar) — House Bill 9, a bill that would provide $1.8 billion in funding to address the border crisis, got initial approval in the Texas House’s Appropriations Committee on Tuesday 14-8, along party lines.
It’s one of Governor Greg Abbott’s priorities this session. He held a call with border county sheriffs Saturday and urged them to come testify to lawmakers in committee.
“Thanks to the Texas Department of Emergency Management and Chief Nim Kidd for allowing us to have a portable morgue,” Brooks County Sheriff Urbine “Benny” Martinez began his testimony for the bill, painting a grim picture of what local law enforcement is having to deal with on a weekly basis now.
“We currently have 78 [dead undocumented migrants found]. From a year to date. 13 of those bodies were recovered within six days, our temperatures have been high,” Martinez explained.
Border patrol reports an increase of more than 500% in encounters with undocumented migrants in the Rio Grande Valley Sector alone this year. The near-record numbers are why lawmakers are trying to help.
“House Bill nine includes $301 million to deploy an additional 1,800 guard along the border to support law enforcement and also participate in barrier construction activities,” Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, laid out the bill and its provisions Tuesday.
That would bring the total amount of guardsmen to 2,500 responding to the border crisis, which accounts for about 13% of the state’s 19,000 total. The Texas Military Department explained how they decide to assign guardsmen, as there have been multiple crises over the last year, in a statement to Nexstar:
Our state response missions derive from a request for support that is routed through both county and state agencies to determine how the support can be provided. The Texas Military Department initially responded as a temporary solution to support Food Banks across the state of Texas following the Covid-19 shutdown in March 2020, after the volunteer work force was sent home. As numerous Texans have returned to work and their volunteer organizations, the need for Texas Guardsmen in this capacity diminished. As these missions begin to come to a close, many of our service members supporting them have volunteered to support the border mission as an opportunity to continue serving their fellow Texans in need.Texas Military Department Staff
The bill also includes funding to make more room for migrant detentions. One of the state’s prisons, the Briscoe Unit, was already cleared of its prisoners and converted to a detention center for migrants charged with misdemeanors back in July.
“They are transported currently to the TRCJ Briscoe Unit in Dilley, Texas where they await trial,” Sarah Hicks with the Governor’s Office explained to lawmakers Tuesday.
The bill includes enough funding to convert two more state prisons, once the Briscoe Unit hits 500 migrants.
“Once the Briscoe unit reaches 500 inmates – and it has a capacity for approximately 978 – TDCJ in conjunction with the Texas Commission on jail standards will start bringing the other units up to code,” Rep. Bonnen said.
As of Wednesday, the Briscoe Unit currently has 486 migrants, according to a spokesperson for TDCJ.
Democrats, who voted against the bill, point to issues beyond state control.
“In 2019, for example, the UN talked about El Salvador and Honduras being the murder capital of the world,” Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, said in committee. She explained many of these migrants are coming to our country to escape hardship.
“I think what we want to get our heads around is, this is a multi-layered, complex issue,” Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, added.
But, the border sheriffs reiterated their need for immediate help, despite the complexity.
“It’s complex in nature, has s a lot of layers that we need to look at. And you just got to peel one layer at a time. But the first layer is border security,” Martinez said.