Washington, DC – The volume of anti-immigrant news coming from Texas can be dizzying. In recent weeks, Texas Republicans filed a new lawsuit against the federal government, seeking to bar border agents from cutting into the razor wire that has been implicated in injuries and deaths (a federal judge has temporarily sided with Texas). Meanwhile, a collection of state anti-immigrant bills seem primed to move to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, including a bill that would give state law enforcement officers unprecedented, and likely unconstitutional, immigration enforcement powers. This would likely lead to racial profiling and make it more difficult for law enforcement to do actual community policing that relies on mutual trust and cooperation. It could also lead to unconscionable and prohibitively expensive incarceration levels.
These are on top of the other ongoing examples of Texas’s politicized anti-immigrant focus – including the state’s lead role in trying to block and overturn the popular DACA program for Dreamers; the chaos and wastefulness of having spent $4.5 billion on Operation Lone Star with “little effect on migration” while facilitating “civil-rights abuses;” and the revelations that state troopers deployed to the banks of the Rio Grande had instructions to push even migrant children back into the waterway.
All of this can be characterized by its cruelty and Texas Republicans’ preference for headline-grabbing political stunts instead of real immigration solutions. Yet there’s also an underappreciated throughline that connects much of the state’s anti-immigrant focus: Texas may be intent to challenge established law and, in particular, the defined immigration powers of the federal government vs. state governments.
According to David Leopold, America’s Voice legal advisor, past president, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and Immigration Group Leader at Ulmer & Berne:
“Texas has long-relied on the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline to try and impose anti-immigrant policy through courts that are stacked with right wing ideologues. Now, they appear to be taking things even one step further – forcing legal clashes that will lead to a re-examination of long-settled immigration law. In a judiciary that includes a Supreme Court increasingly tilted to the right, Texas may be scheming to redefine federal supremacy on immigration law, potentially opening the door to a dangerous and chaotic era of state anti-immigrant policymaking that is driven by ugly politics and moves us farther from real solutions. At what point will Americans be forced to show their papers to go from state to state? ”
As a powerful Houston Chronicle editorial against the Texas legislative proposals and larger context notes:
“The bill introduces yet another novel attempt to create a way for the state to work around federal jurisdiction … It’s alarming to see how far this bill has gotten. Building on the farce that is Operation Lone Star, these bills seem unlikely to help substantively and humanely address the huge numbers of crossings at the Southern border.”
And read Gus Bova in the Texas Observer, “‘Civil And Human Rights Disaster’: Texas Wants To Seize Immigration Authority From Feds,” in which he notes:
“The bill, which authorizes state and local police to arrest or deport suspected unauthorized migrants, represents an inflection point in a now-years-long political turn against immigrants by the Republican Party of Texas, a state where nearly one in five are foreign-born. The measure is also a likely attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Arizona v. United States, which reaffirmed the federal government’s exclusive authority to enforce immigration law.
‘It feels like a coming civil and human rights disaster,’ said Roberto Lopez, an advocacy manager at the Texas Civil Rights Project. ‘Not only does it criminalize people for being undocumented in Texas, it also … encourages mass profiling of people, especially on the border, but potentially across the entire state of Texas.’
…the bill would empower local police officers to attempt to suss out immigration status, which can be quite complex. Some individuals may even be on a path to legal status after being deported. ‘Basically, a local police officer is not equipped to make this determination under any circumstances,’ said Barbara Hines, former director of UT-Austin’s immigration law clinic … It’s a frontal assault on our immigration laws.”
According to Mario Carrillo, Texas-based Campaigns Manager at America’s Voice:
“The amount of dangerous and dehumanizing rhetoric, cheap political stunts, and cruel and extreme policy coming from Texas Republicans is hard to keep track of. Yes, our country needs to overhaul our outdated immigration system. But GOP lawmakers and politicians in our state are not only leading the charge to obstruct this needed reform, they also are seeking to block or overturn policies that are working while enacting new extreme laws that will further target immigrant and Latino communities in our state.”