CHEYENNE—Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) doesn’t consider himself a racist, bigot or xenophobe. 

In the majority floor leader’s office just off the Wyoming Senate gallery last week, he said that part of the promise of the United States is what it offers to immigrants: “the freest country in the world, prosperity and a better life.” The senator’s district in south-central Wyoming has a “large ethnic component” that includes dozens of Peruvian sheepherders who are working under legal visas. “Quite frankly,” Hicks said, “we need more workers that are willing to come here, but they need to follow the process.”

Hicks’ self-description as a welcomer of outsiders came under attack Monday afternoon as colleagues peppered him with questions about a hot-button bill he brought, Senate File 166 – Border wall and sanctuary city transport. In essence, the bill would have allocated $5.25 million from Wyoming’s rainy day fund to help states bordering Mexico to build a wall and bus away immigrants. 

After sneaking through the Senate Appropriations committee by a 3-2 vote, SF 166 was up for first reading on the Senate floor Monday. That’s when Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) questioned how Wyoming wouldn’t be engaging in illegal human trafficking if it gave Texas $250,000 to transport immigrants to sanctuary cities in other states. And wouldn’t that kind of political theater just be “abject apathy” for other people in need, he asked. 

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) questioned why Wyoming would spend $250,000 on busing immigrants who don’t know where they’re going “because it’s politically funny.” The 2023 bill that proposed the measure died. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“Even if we’re concerned about our border,” Rothfuss said, “the idea that we would somehow lose our capacity for compassion for folks that are struggling, I don’t know where that comes from.” 

Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) didn’t use the word, but he suggested that it comes from racism. Why, he asked, did the legislation call out the countries of origins of migrants the U.S. Border Patrol encountered last fiscal year? The draft bill lists them off: Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

“I’m having a hard time understanding exactly what that means,” Gierau said. “It’s in here, so it means something and I just want to get a clear understanding of what’s being said.”   

Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) reads up on Senate File 166 – Border wall and sanctuary city transport before testifying in opposition. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

When Hicks spoke again on the floor, he was noticeably agitated

“When the federal government fails to do their fiduciary duty to protect our borders, it is incumbent on the states to step up and protect our United States of America’s border,” he said.

Ultimately, though, lawmakers’ interest in spending the state’s money within its own borders outweighed notions of shipping cash elsewhere, and the bill died. 

Floor debate

Hicks’ interest in border security stems partly from spending time down there firsthand, he explained in his office. An avid big game hunter, he’s chased after a whitetail subspecies, Coues deer, in the Sonoran desert on both the Mexican and Arizona sides of the border. 

“Sometimes it’s pretty damn scary down there,” Hicks said. “This is the major smuggling route: People, drugs, all this stuff coming in.” 

To rationalize sending money to other states sitting on their own budget surpluses, SF 166 cited the fentanyl crisis that’s killing increasing numbers of Wyoming residents. The draft bill runs off some numbers: the U.S. Border Patrol seized 14,699 pounds of fentanyl in 2022. Moreover, Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation data shows that law enforcement in the state seized around 38 pounds of fentanyl the year before. There was no evidence cited connecting the porous border to fentanyl entering Wyoming. 

Via an amendment, Hicks sought to make the connection. He proposed rerouting $400,000 of the $5 million to Wyoming DCI for the purpose of training local law enforcement officers to “identify and properly address criminal activity, including drug cartels and human trafficking, related to increased illegal immigration activity.” 

Gierau proposed his own amendment: change the $5.25 million allocation to $1.

“I urge you to adopt this and that’ll satisfy my many, many questions about this bill,” Gierau said. It was the last day for new Senate bills to be heard on the floor of the chamber of origin, making time a precious commodity. 

Hicks opposed the change. 

“$5 million. Why?” he asked. “[It’s] $1 for every illegal alien that’s been allowed to come into this country … that doesn’t include the 1 million or 1.5 million ‘gotaways’ that are smuggling drugs, that are human trafficking.” 

Gierau’s amendment failed, 11-18, seeming to indicate a positive outcome for the larger bill. 

A number of other senators, however, shared worries about fiscal responsibility and priorities.  

Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) testifies on Senate File 166 – Border wall and sanctuary city tranport. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“Conservative states probably should band together the best they can,” Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) said, “but at this time we have some unresolved issues in our own state.” 

Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) suggested there is a “desperate” need for that kind of money to address Wyoming issues, like the safety of its children. 

Minutes later, SF 166 died on the Senate floor. It fell by a similar split, 12-18, with some of the Wyoming Senate’s farthest right members, like Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) and Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette), joining the nays.

Correction: This story was updated to correct Mike Gierau‘s political party affiliation. —Ed.

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. The amount of time spent on ridiculous and imported bills just astounds me. We have elected the most ignorant cult members who can’t and won’t think for the state and the true Wyoming citizens who live and try to work here. The regurgitation of lies and hate and racism abound. I am ashamed to be from here but I will stay and work for a return to sanity. As a fourth generation native Wyomingite I will not allow this to continue.

    1. Well said…what a waste of time and our taxpayer money when there are so many other badly needs for Wyoming citizens….

  2. Good news on SF-166. I know Wyoming struggles with what to do with it’s rainy day funds. But shady land deal to bale out oil industry and giving it away to states who are frivolous with their own funds are not the answer.

  3. Larry Hicks should know his role and keep the inbred whackadoo ideas isolated to Baggs.

    If a hypothetical scenario was presented to him that he could have border wall money or the dam, he’d choose the border wall. He didn’t give a damn about the people he represents, he just cares about what people will say about him. Him and all the low information repubs will always vote AGAINST the best interests of the people.

  4. “The senator’s district in south-central Wyoming has a “large ethnic component” that includes dozens of Peruvian sheepherders who are working under legal visas. “Quite frankly,” Hicks said, “we need more workers that are willing to come here, but they need to follow the process.”

    Does anyone know what a Peruvian sheepherder has been paid in Wyoming over the last decade? Shameful wages.

    Of course the ag industry wants them. Easily exploited desperate workers.

    No different than the depressed wages that were dished out to immigrants by Jackson’s hospitality, leisure, and construction industry for decades compared to local market wages for Americans. Still going on. You won’t read about it in the chamber-of-commerce-paid-for local newspapers.

  5. Thanks for this coverage. This proposed legislation was racist and a huge waste of taxpayer money. I agree that better legislative efforts could be spent on our lawmakers pushing our Congressional representatives to get behind immigration reform and address this issue with compassion and common sense at the national level.

  6. The opinions that somehow Hicks’ proposal is grounded in racism are the opinions of people so firmly attached to their political party they cannot think straight. Hicks’ proposal certainly would not have changed the border mess, but to call it racist is lazy and frankly wrong.

    I was against the proposal when I first read about it. $5M would fund (maybe) about a football field of a wall for a border stretching more than 1,900 miles. It was an eye dropper solution to catch a flood.

    Want to oppose Hicks’ proposal? Fine. Just don’t be lazy.

  7. I am beginning to wonder if some the politicians in the State of Wyoming are receiving dark money, because some of their ideas are outrageous thoughts. Sending our hard worked money in this state to another state. Meanwhile refusing federal money to help people who cannot afford health care. Come on where are your priorities?? I am on medicare , best health insurance I have ever had. My spouse had lung cancer and never saw a bill. There are checks and balances on my health insurance, but private insurance does not have this, so basically they can take advantage of people. I have a friend who worked for the feds and would inspected hospitals and nursing homes for fraud, she has found fraud many times. Who holds private insurance companies liable, every state has their own investigator , that to me isn’t reassuring , especially in this state.

  8. We can barely plow the highways, and thousands dont have any form of health insurance (easily remedied with medicaid expansion!), but we should give money to Texas to construct a meaningless wall.

  9. – that first sentence : “Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) doesn’t consider himself a racist, bigot or xenophobe. ”

    A premptive use of the 5th Amendment if I’ve ever seen such…

  10. Fentanyl traffickers are almost always US citizens, not immigrants/asylum seekers, and it is brought through border crossing checkpoints, not smuggled through illegal border-crossing routes. Less than 1% of arrests for illegal border crossing possessed fentanyl.

    Republican lawmakers likely know this, but they can continue to keep their base living in fear of the great replacement by pinning the blame on immigrants while not actually doing anything to solve the problem and prevent more deaths.

    And if Sen Hicks was truly interested in offering the American dream to immigrants, which he claims is needed for the workforce, he would work to make it easier to “follow the process,” which many of these migrants were in fact doing by seeking asylum, until that was severely restricted by the former President.

  11. This was an unbelievable ridiculous bill from someone with a burr under his saddle blanket from one experience of limited travel at the border. After Wyoming has had to tighten its financiers the past many years, we finally can add to the rainy day fund and he wants to give our tax dollars away!!! We need our roads repaired, infrastructure improved, schools funded better, teachers and nurses paid better, healthcare improved!! Send our tax money south? I think we should send Mr. Hick south!!

  12. Senator Hicks confirmed what western farmers and food processors already know, when he said “we need more workers to come here who are willing to follow the process”. Hicks missed an opportunity to do exactly that. The Farm Worker Modernization Act was passed by a large bi-partisan majority in the US House of Representatives in March of 2021. It would have created a “certified agricultural worker program”. It was sponsored by Representative Mike Simpson of our neighbor, Idaho.
    The bill languished in the US Senate. Finally in August of 2023, Senator Mike Crapo, also from Idaho, was assigned to be GOP Senate manager of the bill. His job was to line up enough votes to get it passed. He waited and waited and then declared the bill dead because of some vague unexplained impasse in the final week of Congressional Session.

    Hicks energy and passion would have been much better focused on encouraging Senators Barrasso and Lummis to lean on Crapo in getting The Farm Worker Modernization Act passed.
    Senator Crapo failure was a missed opportunity for all western states.

    1. Excellent information to know. Wyoming Senators obviously does not care about major employers in Wyoming.

  13. It’s sad that the bill even got 12 votes in favor, but I am thankful that it failed. Racism is alive and well in Wyoming. The stereotypes of people from the named countries are that they are bad people and thus not welcomed here. This is the danger of one mostly incorrect story driving our decision-making.

  14. Better hold on to your racist money. You’ll need it to help fund the pathetic slaughter of grizzly bears and wolves.

  15. Thank you Larry Hicks for actually going down there and seeing for your self what’s happing. I hear different stories from the national press to the boarder control agents and the people who work there .

    1. Wow – I am amazed at all the stupid ideas and comments from the Wyoming legislators. One brave legislator has visited the border a few times hunting and says, “it’s pretty damn scary down there.” I’ve been shot at while hunting in Wyoming and if the new “criminal trespass law” passes, it will be open season in Wyoming.

      I’ve been going back and forth to Mexico for around fifty years and the stories told by the media and especially politicians are ridiculous. I spend most of my time now in Tijuana and I feel safer here than I do in Salt Lake City or Denver. I’ve met with Mexican officials, gone to University panel discussions on the border, talked with the border patrol, local attorneys (California & Mexico), deported American veterans, and even cartel members. Most of what you hear (especially from Wyo legislators) is crap.

      The proposed legislation pointed out that the border patrol encountered people from “Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela.” And legislators say they are not racist? Then why did Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, make this statement? “People from 145 nations have been stopped at the border in the first four months of fiscal year 2023.” I have seen hundreds of Russian, Ukrainian, and Chinese migrants, but legislators and the media only talk about those from Latin America.

      Now, if only legislators would stop grandstanding and start proposing things which will actually help citizens in the State of Wyoming. But I guess that is too much to hope for.