SAN ANTONIO — The Texas House approved a bill that would allow local and state peace officers to detain and remove to Mexico people who they think are here illegally, dismissing pleas from a Latino lawmaker who scolded, “Y’all don’t live in our f—ing skin.”
The bill’s passage came early Thursday morning after Republicans truncated debate on the legislation, employing a rarely used procedure to cut off amendments Democrats could propose beyond those that were on the House speaker’s desk.
After Democrats failed to undo that restriction, Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, lit into Republican members. Several versions of the passionate, expletive-laced video posted on social media show Walle chastising Republicans on the bill and for their refusal to allow for a longer “civil” debate that would “let us blow some steam.”
Rep. Cody Harris, R-Palestine, whom Walle addressed as his friend, sponsored the motion to cut off debate.
“You’re my friend, man, I love you, but this f—ing hurts. The s— that happens on this godd—ed floor hurts. I can’t go hang out with my,” Walle said, swallowing the end of the sentence as he became emotional. “I can’t hang out with my brother, my cousin, OK. I can’t take them anywhere, bro? I can’t go to a boda (wedding), I can’t go to a baptism, because my community is being attacked?”
Reached Thursday afternoon, Walle told NBC News he does not regret his comments. He sees a direct connection between the legislation and the 2024 election season.
“I’ve been in the Legislature 16 years and over time there has been this salacious appetite to feed Republican primary voters by demonizing border issues,” Walle said.
In a statement, Harris defended his motion to limit the number of amendments that Democrats could propose, saying Democrats had filed 50 more amendments as a stalling tactic. He said spikes in numbers of people arriving at the border or crossing illegally has spurred passion on both sides.
“While Democrats argue that this motion was an attempt to shut down debate over the bill, that simply isn’t true. My motion prevailed and we went on to debate the bill and their amendments until 4:00 in the morning when the House passed HB 4,” Harris said in the statement.
‘Open season on people of color’
Jennefer Canales-Pelaez, Texas policy attorney and strategist for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said the state deportation bill the House approved is worse than Arizona’s SB 1070 law, signed in 2010, that allowed officers, while enforcing other laws, to investigate the citizenship or immigration status of suspects and people they’ve stopped.
Passage of that law led to court challenges, boycotts, protests and demonstrations and invigorated voter mobilization among Latinos who favored Democrats.
The Texas bill goes further than SB 1070 because it would allow any peace officer to not only question, but arrest and remove them, Canales-Pelaez said. The authority is not only extended to law enforcement, but the broad definition means a peace officer could be “someone who sits on the dental examiners board,” she said.
“The way that the law is written is just so vague, so essentially it is just open season on people of color throughout the state of Texas,” Canales-Pelaez said.
She said the bill does not address some of the logistics involved in removals, such as what the line of questioning would look like, where it would happen, or what would happen if Mexico does not accept the non-Mexican people Texas tries to remove. Immigration enforcement, including deportation, is a federal responsibility.
The House bill now goes to the state Senate.
Walle’s comments were also referring to a bill on its way to the governor that sets a 10-year mandatory minimum penalty for human smuggling and another still to go to the Senate that provided $1.5 billion to buy land and construct a border wall.
“Y’all don’t understand the s— that you do hurts our community. It hurts us personally, bro. It hurts us,” he said. “It hurts us to our f—ing core and y’all don’t understand that. Y’all don’t live in our f—ing skin.”
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Hispanics outnumber whites in Texas and the state is majority minority.
Though Walle lives in and was born and raised in Houston, as was his mother, his father is from Mexico. His parents and many other relatives live along the border, he said. The border has its problems, he acknowledged, but “nobody wants to solve the problems, at least from a state perspective. This has been a big bag of flaming horse manure that people are throwing back and forth, and instead of putting the fire out, the state of Texas wants to put more gas on the fire.”
“But in that process it affects families. It demonizes communities of color like mine,” he said.
Walle said it was offensive that Republicans cut off debate on future amendments to the immigration bill since under the Legislature’s rules anyone can propose an amendment to a bill brought to the floor. Legislation authors should “stand by their bill,” he said.
Republicans were able to cut off amendments by obtaining signatures and subjecting the cutoff proposal to a vote. Several members were not in the House when the vote was taken.
“I will never lie down when I feel my community is being attacked. I don’t regret what happened last night, period. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it all over again,” Walle said. “We are not going to take it anymore.”
The Legislature has approved the bill in the midst of a special session rocked by revelations that the leader of the conservative political action committee Defend Texas Liberty met with white supremacist Nick Fuentes. The PAC gave Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, $3 million in political contributions. House Speaker Dade Phelan, also a Republican, has called for Patrick and several state GOP members who also got money from the PAC to return it, causing a rift in the party.
Lawmakers should have gone home in May, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called them back for three special sessions as he has pushed to get approval for tax money to be used for subsidizing private school tuition. Along with that, he made border and immigration issues an item for the latest special session, which began Oct. 9 and ends Nov. 7.
In 2017, Texas passed its own “show me your papers” law that allows law enforcement officers to ask people about their citizenship and immigration status and allowed for those who didn’t to be removed from their jobs, including elected officials. It was upheld on appeal.