Anti-Immigrant Policies Lead Texas Down an Unconstitutional and Dangerous Road

Texas’ SB 4 Betrays American Values

Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star and the Texas Legislature’s dangerously unconstitutional SB 4 have turned the idyllic beauty of the Texas Borderlands into a wire-clad warzone. Having already bulldozed a natural river island, Gov. Abbott is now attempting to tear through American democracy with a false legal doctrine called the “invasion theory.” With the help of the Texas Legislature, Gov. Abbott is defying U.S. Supreme court precedent and usurping federal authority to create and enforce immigration law. Gov. Abbott plays with Texans’ lives and futures when he uses the same type of rhetoric that led to lynchings in South Texas in the 1920s and the deadly El Paso Walmart shooting in 2019. All Texans deserve a state government that can solve complicated policy issues while simultaneously caring for our communities, instead of using them as pawns in partisan, political warfare. 

Congressional Inaction Creates Opportunity for Chaos and Confusion

The nation deserves fair and humane immigration policies that benefit all families, but Congress has refused to update our nation’s immigration laws for decades. Policies like updating visa quotas, enacting the DREAM Act, and filling labor shortages with work permits for new immigrants have all been ignored in favor of deterrence-focused “border security” proposals. Even the hyper-punitive legislation recently proposed in the U.S. Senate was rejected in Congress – another missed chance to fix our outdated immigration and asylum systems. That vacuum of power, however, is not Gov. Abbott’s to fill.

Gov. Abbott is attempting to fill the gap created by Congress with his own vision of so-called “state sovereignty.” SB 4 and Operation Lone Star are a part of Texas’ wide-scale plan to create ongoing conflict with the federal government at the price of our state’s people and resources. Gov. Abbott’s dehumanizing rhetoric is leading Texas down a road we have not traveled for more than a century. 

As long as he has been governor, Greg Abbott has used his authority to sow fear and unease among Texans by pointing to the inability of the federal government to “end illegal immigration.” The border region and the people who call it home have become the default bogeyman in the governor’s quest to gain more power. His increasingly violent rhetoric is approaching its logical end with $10 billion dedicated to fulfilling Abbott’s political ends. 

Abbott Is Turning His Back on American Values

Gov. Abbott’s attempt to claim authority over immigration law and the enforcement of national borders is a clear departure from American allegiance to the Constitution. While the Constitution places the power to enact and enforce immigration law with Congress and the President, Gov. Abbott is claiming that power for himself. If his dangerous policies continue going unchecked, other states could follow Texas’ lead and enact their own immigration processes. The U.S. Supreme Court declared in Arizona v. United States that states cannot enforce federal immigration laws. Yet, Gov. Abbott escalated his actions under Operation Lone Star by signing SB 4, a move that 30 former immigration and appellate immigration judges rejected in a joint statement. They wrote: “Immigration is plainly a federal function… persons in the United States who entered unlawfully have rights and protections under federal law, including the right to apply for asylum.”

Federal immigration authority makes sense; if a person is authorized to enter the United States in New Mexico, state authorities in Texas cannot unilaterally deny entry into the state and vice-versa. Federal officials are charged and trained to handle immigration and asylum cases, but under SB 4, untrained state and local magistrate judges – even those without law degrees – will be doing the job of an immigration judge. Under the SB 4 regime, we are no longer a “United” States when it comes to border security and immigration law.  

Ignoring Federal Authority Is a Threat to the Nation 

The biggest concern is what could happen after the Courts rule on SB 4 and the litany of other border security related cases. Based on current and long-term precedent, SB 4 will likely be ruled an unconstitutional violation of the U.S. Supremacy Clause, but how far will Gov. Abbott go down the dangerous road of conflict with the federal government? Less than a century ago, another governor rejected the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which led to federal troops enforcing desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. But the spitting resistance to desegregation among Little Rock residents is much different than Texas’ mobilization of national guard troops and open defiance of federal authority. A conflict between state and federal law enforcement would send a catastrophic message of dysfunction to the world, and Gov. Abbott’s actions could lead to a dystopian reality not seen since the days leading to the Civil War. The greatest threat to our continued unity as a nation is Gov. Abbott’s refusal to abide by his oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Invasion Theory Doctrine Is Without Legal Merit

The idea that states can override federal immigration policy by declaring migrants an imminent danger is unfounded. The Constitution requires the federal government—not the states—to protect against an “invasion.” Furthermore, courts have consistently held that an invasion is “armed hostility from another political entity, such as another state or foreign country that is intending to overthrow the state’s government.” People seeking refuge and asylum are not a foreign country, nor are they overthrowing our government. The Constitution gives the federal government the authority to manage foreign relations, and states are prohibited from engaging in some activities that implicate international affairs. As Joseph Nunn, a lawyer at the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University School of Law, reminds us: “on multiple occasions, the federal courts have rejected the argument that an influx of undocumented individuals into the U.S. could constitute an ‘invasion.’” Migrant crossings are a plea for help, not an invasion.

Gov. Abbott’s actions are dangerously unconstitutional and divisive. They betray American values by tearing apart immigrant families and discrediting their contributions to our country and communities.

We Must Defend Texas’ Values

It is an inescapable reality; people moving to make life better for themselves and their families will continue to seek refuge and asylum in the United States by any means necessary. The increasingly harmful rhetoric used to justify Gov. Abbott’s failed enforcement policies will continue to divide us. A century ago, residents of the Texas Borderlands were falsely persecuted as “bandits” and subjected to lynching mobs. Today, SB 4 and Operation Lone Star are being used to label Texans as smugglers and traffickers, in some instances for simply living out their faith. The deadly consequences of Gov. Abbott’s invasion theory rhetoric was felt at an El Paso Walmart in 2019. 

Texans should reject the governor’s use of state resources for his unending conflict with the federal government. Texans are welcoming, and we believe in upholding our oaths of allegiance to the Constitution. We have to live that faith by holding policymakers who fail to share that conviction accountable. History and research prove time and again that immigrants, new and old, asylee, refugee, or undocumented, benefit our society. They build homes, churches, and communities. They pay millions in local, state, and federal taxes. They  fill crucial holes in our labor sector, all while being our friends, family, and neighbors. 

All Texans, from Eagle Pass to Muleshoe, deserve state leadership that embraces the dignity and productivity of migrants sojourning in our land, rather than a governor who betrays American values. We have the power to organize, vote, and demand that policymakers champion fair, workable updates to federal immigration policy.

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