Over the last decade, Texas spent more than $6 billion on the budget strategy called “border security.” From cries of “anchor” and “terror” babies to “invading hordes,” dehumanizing and fearmongering rhetoric has spurred the creation of costly initiatives that were supposed to “seal the border” and “stop the invasion.” All the while, Texans suffered from massive cuts to education, billions of dollars in lost health care, and the routinely lethal effects of far-right policy choices. A century ago, Texans much like ourselves faced a changing world fraught with a war like none other in recorded history, a deadly pandemic that destroyed entire communities, and the challenge to wrest socio-economic and political power away from the grip of systemic white supremacy.
Once again, Texans are in the infancy of a Roaring Twenties decade, with similar and arguably more dangerous threats to American democracy. Instead of using medical concentration camps and forced delousing at our borders, we have a state attorney general suing to prevent people from seeking and asserting the right to asylum at our ports of entry. Like the 1920s, the 2020s are a moment when Texans, and all Americans, must make a choice about our future: We can hang on to the racist power structure of our forebears, or we can — in our continuously growing diversity — reject “The Great Replacement Theory” and make responsible, humane, and compassionate investments in our future.
Instead of investments in health care, public education, and access to economic opportunity, we get vapid chest-thumping on “border security.” At the governor’s direction, legislators appropriated $3 billion in the current budget, but that was not enough so the governor took another $1 billion using fancy accounting tricks. Do not try this at home, mom and dad; those tricks are not for kids or parents — just governors.
Since 2013, budgets passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by the governor have each included at least $500 million dedicated to an increasingly militarized state presence in border and border-adjacent communities. The most recent allocation of the state’s General Revenue to “border security” spends billions on an effort as misleading as its name. Operation Lone Star is an indefinite mobilization of thousands of State Guard and DPS troopers, not the “one riot, one ranger” operation of legend. If continued, this effort will cost Texas taxpayers no less than another $4 billion in the 2024-2025 budget.
Budgets are moral documents, and Texas continues to show its morals — or lack thereof — by using its budget for internecine political battles and photo-ops rather than future opportunities for every Texan. More damning, Texas uses its budget to punish desperate human beings for seeking better lives. No room at the inn here. From an intellectually honest perspective, there is little to fear about those migrating to the United States, but Texas leadership continues to use our budget to win political battles. Texans deserve better.
Every Texan believes that migration is a human right. Our current state and federal policies restricting those rights fail in many ways, but, most importantly, they fail at their own stated goals. Because our government bases policies on irrationally racist misunderstandings of the human right to migrate, we focus on punitive and cruel methods to “deter” people seeking refuge and asylum in the U.S. Humans, as history shows, will continue migrating in search of a better life.
It is hard to understand what state leaders mean when they claim to be “securing the border.” Deterrence, long proven to be neither an efficient nor effective criminal justice policy, does not work for people whose options are the certain death of staying put or the intentional death trap that is the journey to and across the militarized U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It is said that governments cannot legislate morality, and if that is true, then governments cannot legislate against the unrelenting quest for safety and opportunity. The aspiring Americans who risk everything to reach our shores, like those seeking their shining beacon on a hill before them, will not stop coming — because it is their only option.
Our governor blames the deaths of people seeking a better life — by any means necessary — on “open border” policies. In actuality, the closed-door policies of both federal and state governments funneled more than 53 people to their deaths in an oven on wheels. Those very same closed-door policies led to the deaths of U.S. citizens and immigrants alike for generations. At least 3,253 people died trying to become Americans between 1990 and 2020. For centuries, U.S. immigration policy has been based on nativist and xenophobic fears of non-white migrants “replacing” white Americans. Recently, the number of Border Patrol agents doubled from 2003 to 2019, and federal policy continues to focus on deterrence and removal to the tune of $17.7 billion in 2021. Even that is not enough. The governor is also spending billions to punish migrants rather than solving problems all Texans — Black, brown, and white — face, like the lack of health care coverage and underfunded public education.
Operation Lone Star, like the billions spent to fund it, is not just a failed policy of the current state government, but it is a continuation of a failed white supremacist ideology that uses immigrant lives to win political battles while leaving Texans vulnerable to real dangers such as gun violence and the lack of affordable health care. Texas is better than that, and Texans deserve more from our government than punitive and cruel expenditures incapable of achieving their goals, however obscure and misguided they may be.
Like a century ago, we face a pivotal moment in our history as a state and nation. Operation Lone Star was a failure from its inception, and it is time the state cuts its losses and invests in programs that support Texans instead of manipulating our fears.