Since my first session in the Texas Senate in 2011, I have seen anti-immigrant bills filed in every legislative cycle.
For the most part, we’ve been successful in stopping them from being sent to the Governor’s desk.
The passage of S.B. 4, a Texas-size “show me your papers” law, changes everything. It is the unfortunate but logical outcome of a Republican Party that has fully turned its back on the George W. Bush days, when it tried to appeal to Latinos.
S.B. 4 does not make us safer. Numerous law enforcement leaders testified it would counter successful community-based strategies that have worked to keep crime rates down. We all support public safety, and policy decisions should be based on sound data and experience; with S.B. 4, testimony and experience point to the contrary.
Other anti-immigrant bills moving through the legislative pipeline include: the ongoing funding for “border security” to the tune of billions of dollars over the past few sessions, essentially turning DPS into a state border patrol, with little accountability; licensing federal detention centers run by for-profit prison corporations as “child care” facilities but giving them permission to not meet any minimum standards typically required of such facilities; E-Verify; prohibiting community IDs; prohibiting DREAMers from participating in work study programs; and other measures that seem to emerge by the day.
This does not happen in a vacuum. Laws passed by the Republican majority to suppress the vote through Voter ID and hyper-gerrymandered districting are among discriminatory measures found by six different federal courts to be unconstitutional. Nationally, the new president and his team are working hard to integrate local police into the “deportation force,” while laying the groundwork for massive immigration incarceration. We all remember that now-President Trump announced his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.”
The canary in the coal mine was the unwarranted emphasis on “border security.” Following the terrorist attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, the media and some elected officials unfairly connected unauthorized crossings on the southern border with threats to the United States.
This is simply false. While we must maintain diligence at all entry points, especially air and sea ports, no serious terrorist plot in the U.S. has involved people crossing by land on the southern border.
Conservative talk show hosts and think tanks pushed this big lie and turned the border security fears into an constant attack ad against immigrants, their base ate it up, and Republican legislators ran with it.
In Texas, former Gov. Rick Perry morphed from a governor who signed the Texas DREAM Act in 2001 to one who falsely claimed there were bombs going off in El Paso in 2010. Others have amplified similar claims.
This lie conflated immigrants with both an existential and public safety crisis that simply does not exist but which, to this day, has become the most powerful driver of Texas primary voters. It has brought us to this anti-immigrant moment, which crystallized with the presidential campaign and subsequent administration, and now, with the Texas Legislature. If it does nothing else, the 85th Texas Legislature will have defined itself by the anti-immigrant bills it passes.
In Texas, for at least a generation, the Republican Party has watched the changing demographics of the state. Republican leaders in Texas for years avoided overt attacks on immigrants that happened elsewhere, from the disaster in California in the 1990s with Proposition 187 to the Arizona debacle with its own “show-me-your-papers” bill, S.B. 1070, in 2010.
Not only are immigrants an essential part of the cultural fabric of Texas, they fuel our state’s economy. Both legal and unauthorized immigrants are critical to Texas’ prosperity. In cities, suburbs, and small towns from one end of Texas to the other, immigrants are working hard and contributing as researchers, entrepreneurs, farm hands, builders, cooks, roughnecks, and so on.
S.B. 4 now stands as the Texas Legislature’s statement in response to that effort. In the not too distant future, changing demographics and new voters will inevitably have the last word!