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Crane introduces late-session Texas-style immigration bill

by CLARK CORBIN / Idaho Capital Sun
| March 29, 2024 1:00 AM

BOISE —  Even as the annual Idaho legislative session enters perhaps its final days, a Republican legislator introduced a new unfunded Texas-style immigration bill on Wednesday.

Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, sponsored House Bill 753, which includes lengthy sections that are a word-for-word copy of Texas’ Senate Bill 4, which the Texas Legislature passed during a special session in November 2023. If passed into law, the Idaho bill would allow local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people and arrest them or detain them for entering Idaho without legal documentation outside of an official port of entry. The bill also allows magistrate judges to order people who violate the bill to return to the foreign country that they left Idaho for. 

Like the Texas law, the new bill in Idaho makes it a state crime for a person who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national to enter the state directly from a foreign country at any location other than a lawful port of entry. There are exceptions in the bill for people who have a lawful presence in the U.S., people who were granted asylum and for people who were approved for benefits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program between 2012 and 2021. A first violation of the bill would be a misdemeanor, while subsequent violations would be a felony.

The bill also makes it a crime for non-U.S. citizens who have been denied entry into the U.S. or who have been deported to attempt to enter the state of Idaho or to be in Idaho. 

Idaho’s new bill also gives magistrate judges the authority to order anyone who violates the law to return to the foreign country from which they attempted to enter the state.  

“If someone was found to be illegally in this country, they can go before a magistrate, a judge, and then they have the option to be immediately deported back to their country of origin,” Crane said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Idaho House State Affairs Committee.

The Texas law upon which the Idaho bill is based is the subject of legal challenges. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit extended a hold blocking the Texas law from taking effect while a legal challenge plays out, Politico reported. 

Back in Idaho on Wednesday, Crane said the Idaho bill is necessary because the federal government is not doing enough to enforce federal immigration laws.

“So there are millions upon millions of people that are flooding into this country and nothing is being done about it on a national level,” Crane said.

Idaho legislators take issue with fiscal note attached to Crane’s immigration bill

However, legislators from both major political parties said that there are problems with the cost estimate in the fiscal note attached to Crane’s bill. Crane’s fiscal note now states “This legislation causes no additional expenditure of funds at the state or local level of government…

However, Crane admitted Wednesday during the House State Affairs Committee meeting that either the county sheriff’s or the state would have come up with funding to pay to send people back to their country of origin.

“We will have to set up some sort of funding,” Crane said. “Whether that is handled by the county sheriffs or whether we set up a state fund in order to get them sent back, we are going to have to – hypothetically – put them on a bus or transportation, so to speak, back to the border to get them back to their country of origin. So, yes, we will have to figure out what the funding is going to look like.”

Wednesday’s hearing was only an introductory hearing, which does not include public testimony. 

Boise Democratic Reps. John Gannon and Todd Achilles voted against introducing the bill, but the Republican supermajority on the committee outvoted them. 

“You just told us that the fiscal note is incorrect …” Achilles told Crane during Wednesday’s meeting. “Why do we have a fiscal note on this that says there is no fiscal impact when you just said that it’s going to cost the state to send people out?”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, also told Crane to correct the fiscal note on the bill, but Barbieri voted for introducing the bill. Crane did say he would provide an updated fiscal note in time for the bill to receive a full hearing. 

Given the lateness of the legislative session, the prospects for Crane’s immigration bill are unclear. It usually takes two weeks or more for a bill to be introduced, heard in committees and then sent to both legislative chambers for a vote. Legislative leaders still appear to be working toward wrapping up the session for the year by Friday.  

The nonbinding deadline to transmit bills between legislative chambers came and went back on March 4. Often, legislators introduce bills late in a session simply for the purposes of starting a conversation or planting a seed for a future legislative session. However, during the frenzied final days in session legislators frequently suspend their own rules and are capable of fast-tracking bills.
At any rate, introducing the new immigration bill on Wednesday clears the way for it to return to the House State Affairs Committee for a full public hearing.