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Texas Lawmakers Considering Bills Expanding Gov. Greg Abbott’s Cruel And Expensive Anti-Immigrant Vision

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Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already sunk billions of taxpayer dollars into cruel and ineffective border policies that have separated families, have been ruled unconstitutional in court, and have illegally jailed hundreds of Black and brown migrants for weeks and months without any formal state charges, just to name a few outrageous actions.

Under yet another special legislative session that began earlier this month, Abbott is now demanding Texas lawmakers go even further to enact his anti-immigrant vision.

“Proposals include creating a state ‘illegal entry’ crime with a sentence of up to 20 years, empowering state law enforcement to arrest and deport asylum seekers, and creating a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for ‘human smuggling,’” Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Human Rights Watch, and supporting organizations including Texas AFL-CIO, LUPE, Border Network for Human Rights, and Texas Civil Rights Project said in a release received by America’s Voice.

A number of advocates and Democratic state lawmakers held a press conference on Monday to push back against S.B. 11 and S.B. 4, which both passed the state Senate late last week and now head to the state house for consideration despite concerns expressed by some lawmakers. Democratic state Sen. César Blanco said S.B. 11, which would punish migrants crossing into Texas from Mexico, could cost taxpayers an additional $60,000 per day to implement.

“My concern is the State of Texas may add a layer on top of what we are dealing with in terms of both border security and a humanitarian crisis that has developed and continues to affect our communities,” he said according to The Texas Tribune.

“While being tough on smugglers may sound good, those most likely affected by the measure are actually thousands of young Texans,” Human Rights Watch’s Bob Libal said about S.B. 4 in the Austin-American Statesman. “Human Rights Watch analyzed publicly available data counting people arrested on smuggling charges and booked into Operation Lone Star processing centers between June 2021 and July 2023. They were overwhelming young Texans, who defense attorneys say are often recruited on social media to drive people from the border further inland.”

Republican state Sen. Pete Flores defended the proposal by saying that the intent of the bill  “is to go after those bad actors and not necessarily their family members or those rendering aid,” Houston Public Media reported

“Not necessarily” leaves a lot of worrying uncertainty in the air in light of the “widespread” racial profiling already seen under Operation Lone Star. Civil rights groups last year alleged that state troopers “excessively pull over Latinos — who make up the vast majority of border county populations — for minor traffic violations,” The Texas Tribune reported. “They argue troopers prolong stops of Latinos to search for illegal activity based solely on their ethnicity.”

If Texas lawmakers want to talk about illegal activity, let’s talk about the dangerous and inhumane floating saw blade barrier in the Rio Grande, installed as part of Abbott’s border operation proclaiming to trump federal immigration policy. This false belief was swiftly rebuked as unconstitutional in court last month. 

“Unfortunately for Texas, permission is exactly what federal law requires before installing obstructions in the nation’s navigable waters,” U.S. District Judge David Ezra said in his preliminary injunction, further finding that the state “did not present any credible evidence that the buoy barrier as installed has significantly curtailed illegal immigration across the Rio Grande River.”

S.B. 11’s main sponsor, Sen. Brian Birdwell, admits that the proposal could face legal challenges, The Texas Tribune states. “Still, Birdwell said he is confident his bill could win a legal challenge if the federal government were to sue Texas.” That’s spoken with the confidence of someone who knows that the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline, which frequently originates in Texas, could likely produce a ruling favorable to the anti-immigrant right.

What we’ve seen happening on immigration at the hands of anti-immigrant lawmakers in individual states has too often become a trend, despite proposals’ clear negative impacts on local communities and economies. Rep. Joaquin Castro is among the federal lawmakers urging the Texas House to reject the proposals, tweeting that “SB 4 and SB 11 will overwhelm jails with asylum-seekers and persecute mixed-status families + clergy while empowering Texas police to obstruct federal immigration enforcement and harass Mexican-Americans.”