Walle creates stir at Legislature

Angered and Agonized Walle argues about new Restrictions on Immigrants in HB4

HB4 empowers police to return undocumented immigrants to Mexico

AUSTIN, Texas — Tempers flared at the Texas Capitol Wednesday in a fight over controversial immigration bills.

Rep. Armando Walle, a Democrat from Houston, had a profanity-laced exchange with some Republicans during the special session and it was caught on camera.

The exchange was over House Bill 4, which passed in an unofficial vote of 84 to 60 around 4 a.m. Thursday. The bill makes it a state crime to enter Texas illegally and empowers local police to arrest people and send them back to Mexico.

Here’s what Walle had to say during that heated exchange with Rep. Cody Harris, a Republican from East Texas. This was after the representative moved to limit new amendments to the bill.

“It pisses me off,” Walle said. “No, no, no. You’re my friend, man. I love you, but this (expletive) hurts. Y’all don’t understand (expletive) what you do hurts our community. It hurts us personally, bro.”

Walle spoke out against the bill earlier in the day on X (formerly known as Twitter) and also during a press conference when he called Republican immigration measures a waste of taxpayer dollars.

House Bill 4 is just one of the three border bills moving through the House during this special session. Supporters say the state is being forced to act because the federal government is not doing its job.

We spoke with Walle Wednesday night. Here’s what he had to say.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “I was explaining to my colleagues on the floor the net effect of passing a motion to cut off debate excludes the voices like those in my community to express their views, to file amendments, to have a floor debate on the front mic and the back mic in a civil manner. And so I was just expressing the frustration that I think that many of us have that over the last 20 years. We’ve had an anti-immigrant sentiment in this state. And so for me, I’m never going to apologize for standing up for what I believe is right.”

Texas House Bill 4

According to the Texas Tribune, House Bill 4, sponsored by state Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, would create a new state crime for illegally entering Texas from Mexico, authorize state police to arrest violators, and allow officers to return migrants to a port of entry and order them to return to Mexico.

Under the bill, a first time offender could be convicted of a misdemeanor and be punished by up to 180 days behind bars. The penalty would jump to a felony punishable by up to two years in prison if the person has repeatedly entered the country illegally.

The bill is another attempt by lawmakers to empower Texas law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws, despite rulings by federal courts that the federal government has sole jurisdiction over immigration matters.

Spiller said his bill doesn’t preempt federal law and only enforces laws already in place.

“There is nothing unfair about ordering someone back from where they came if they arrived here illegally,” Spiller said.

State Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, said she’s concerned that the bill could lead to officers mistakenly arresting U.S. citizens who live on the border if they don’t have proof of citizenship handy.

Spiller said that scenario would seem unlikely because a U.S. citizen hasn’t yet been wrongfully removed from the country.

However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the research arm of the U.S. Congress, has found that immigration agents have “arrested 674, detained 121, and removed 70 potential U.S. citizens” between 2015 and 2020, according to a July 2021 report.

Criado also said HB 4 could be thwarted by Mexico if officials there refuse to accept non-Mexican migrants returned by Texas law enforcement.

Spiller said that if that becomes an issue, Texas Governor Greg Abbott will “be able to work that out” with the governors of the four Mexican states that border Texas.

But like in the U.S., Mexico’s immigration policies are set by its federal government, not governors.

Reporting courtesy Texas Tribune and KHOU.