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Dallas County Will Sue State If Immigration Bill Passes

The county commissioners will likely file a lawsuit if a bill that would make it a state crime to illegally cross the border becomes law. Officials are concerned that the financial burdens of the law would fall on localities.

Furious Dallas County, Texas, commissioners on Tuesday said they’d likely sue the state if a bill that would make it a state crime to illegally cross the border becomes law.

County officials say that the financial burdens of the bill would fall on them, without any state assistance. The Dallas County jail has been wavering near capacity for months and officials say this legislation would require thousands of additional beds.

Commissioner John Wiley Price introduced the discussion Tuesday at the regular commissioners’ meeting, calling the state bill “new nonsense.”

“This is beyond ludicrous,” Price said. “Once they do it, let’s just file a lawsuit.”

“It’s insanity to the maximum,” Commissioner Elba Garcia replied.

The bill would permit any law enforcement officer to arrest an undocumented migrant and charge them with a misdemeanor for a first-time offense or a felony if the person has a criminal record or has repeatedly entered the country illegally.

Unlawful entry is already a federal felony, but this bill would also make it a state crime. Garcia called the bill “redundant.”

The bill has been initially approved by the Texas Senate and is currently in a House committee. Sen. Brian Birdwell, R- Granbury, sponsored the bill. His office did not respond to a request for comment. Birdwell chairs the Senate Committee on Border Security.

Dallas commissioners say the legislation would fill up county jails across the state without any attached funding, calling it an unfunded mandate. There are 98,000 county jail beds across the state, 72 percent of which are already filled.

Dallas County’s jail is at 94 percent capacity as of Tuesday — a slight drop from a summer of near-capacity. Dallas County has been able to avoid spending millions of dollars on contracting with another county jail for bed space thus far, but commissioners worry that this bill would force their hand.

“It is mathematically impossible to fit this population into available jail beds,” Assistant County Administrator Charles Reed told commissioners.

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told the senate committee on border security that the legislation would lead to about 72,000 arrests statewide per year.

Commissioner Andrew Sommerman suggested during the Tuesday meeting that the legislation could force the county to allocate jail beds to undocumented migrants over rapists and murderers.

“So we have to enforce the law, but we don’t have any place to put people,” he said. “This problem has to be executed by Dallas County, but we are not going to give you any solutions to that problem, we are just going to say you take care of it. Now, it’s on the taxpayers of Dallas County.”

The bill would cost Dallas County hundreds of millions, commissioners said. Garcia said this shows the “hypocrisy” of Republicans who want to reduce taxes, while lower jurisdictions spend money to enforce state laws.

The fiscal note attached to the bill concluded that while the financial impact to local governments is undetermined, establishing a new crime would create “additional demands” on local prosecutors and correctional facilities.

“Do we need an extra law just to punish taxpayers? … They are not paying for the laws they are passing,” she said. “They are making all the lower entities part of this crazy, crazy, unfundable, racist law.”

If passed, the legislation could face legal challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 against Arizona, saying the federal government holds the authority over immigration.

There could be further, unexpected costs for the county.

Reed told commissioners that if a single parent crosses the border illegally with a child and is arrested due to this legislation, the child would be sent to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services while the parent is incarcerated. The county would likely pick up any court fees for the child.

“We pay for the attorneys, we also pay for prosecution of the offense. We also pay for indigent defense, because none of these folks will be able to afford an attorney,” Reed said. “We pay all the court costs, we pay all the custody costs and no reimbursement from the state.”

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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