Led by tough talk Republican governors who weigh presidential elections, Texas and Florida discusses particularly strict border security legislation as GOP tests federal authority over immigration.

The measures in the two GOP-controlled state houses come against a backdrop of polarization in Congress that makes any national immigration legislation seem unlikely as president Joe Biden trying to crack down on migrants arriving at the border while eyeing his own re-election bid.

Republican proposals in Texas build on Gov. Greg Abbott’s $4 billion Operation Lone Star project, with its construction of more barriers along the US-Mexico border and the transportation of migrants to Democratic-led cities, including Washington, DC and New York. Abbott’s aides confirm he is considering a run for president.

Operation Lone Star has already added more officers along the Texas border with Mexico to detain migrants trespassing on private property. Now, Texas lawmakers have proposed creating a new border patrol force that can deputize private citizens, as well as making it a state crime to enter the state without a permit, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“Texas is taking historic action to secure the border and stop guns, drugs and cartels from infesting our state,” Abbott said in a tweet this week. “As President Biden abandons his constitutional duty, Texas continues to rise.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered Donald Trump’s strongest possible GOP challenger so far in next year’s presidential primary, has proposed making human trafficking in the state punishable by up to five years in prison. Hospitals would be required to collect data on patients’ immigration status, and people in the United States would be illegally denied government ID cards.

“Texas and Florida are places with politically ambitious governors who hope to use immigrants to advance their agendas,” said attorney Tanya Broder of the National Immigration Law Center, which promotes immigrant rights.

Despite the tough rhetoric, Broder said progress in immigrant rights has been quietly made in recent years.

State-level organizing has improved immigrants’ access to health care, higher education, professional licenses and driver’s licenses, according to a recent study Broder co-authored.

The study noted that Colorado became the first state to enact an unemployment insurance option for barred workers. Arizona voters last year approved in-state tuition for all students who attended high school in the state, regardless of their immigration status.

Abbott and DeSantis blame Biden for a large increase last year in illegal crossings into the United States. But a decline this year in the number of illegal crossings could throw cold water on GOP attacks on Biden’s handling of border issues. The sharp decline along the southwest border followed the Biden administration’s announcement of tougher immigration measures.

The U.S. Border Patrol said it encountered migrants 128,877 times trying to cross the border in February between the legal ports of entry, the lowest monthly number since February 2021. Agents detained migrants more than 2.5 million times at the southern border in 2022, including more than 250,000 in December, the highest ever.

“Florida will not turn a blind eye to the dangers of Biden’s border crisis,” DeSantis said in a tweet last month announcing the Florida legislation. “We are proposing additional measures to protect Floridians from these reckless federal policies, including mandatory e-verification and banning local governments from issuing ID cards to illegal aliens.”

While officials in Texas and Florida tout their efforts to tighten borders, no major immigration legislation has emerged this year in Arizona, where some of the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant laws have been drafted.

Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, passed in 2010, required law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of a person stopped or arrested if officers suspected the person might be in the U.S. illegally, a practice critics say encouraged racial profiling. Courts eventually struck down several of the law’s provisions.

Arizona’s Republican lawmakers are pitted against Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who this year vetoed a GOP-backed budget and a bill that would ban teaching public school children what its author describes as “critical race theory.”

New Mexico, which also shares a border with Mexico, has since 2021 steadily removed barriers for migrants without legal status to access public benefits, student aid and licensing in legitimate occupations.

After taking office in 2019, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham withdrew the majority of National Guard troops her Republican predecessor sent to the border, decrying a “carad of fear at the border.”

New Mexico’s legislature is also controlled by Democrats. Still, lawmakers this week rejected a proposal to bar state and local governments from contracting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants seeking asylum.

In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers last month launched a new effort to require sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration agents interested in picking up certain prison inmates believed to be in the United States illegally. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper twice vetoed earlier versions of the measure, but Republican majorities in the General Assembly have since grown.

A similar Idaho effort has so far failed to advance beyond its legislative introduction.

Immigration-related legislation in other states includes:

— A failed Georgia bill that would have provided in-state college tuition to immigrant students who arrived in the United States as children and are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Bills are being advanced that would prohibit businesses and certain people from certain foreign countries from buying farmland within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of any military base.

— A Colorado bill aimed at allowing immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and are protected from deportation to own a firearm so they can become police officers.


Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida: Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Gary D. Robertson of Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Jesse Bedayn in Denver; and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.