Once again, Texas leaders are using immigration as a wedge issue, this time following the lead of the national presidential campaigns.
Texas Senate leadership has focused on interim charges that unfairly target immigrants; interim charges are the prelude to legislation that will be filed in the 85th Legislature in 2017. The most recent charges essentially put the state in the role of telling local law enforcement how to keep their communities safe. These efforts are similar to Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, where the politics briefly supported the action, but ultimately failed on both constitutional and economic grounds.
Meanwhile, the governor of Texas has attacked Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez for allowing the release of individuals on immigration hold in compliance with federal regulation. As is her purview, Sheriff Valdez sensibly decided to prioritize her local resources by focusing on dangerous criminals instead of people who haven’t paid their traffic tickets.
These should be considered odd positions for those who preach for limited government and local control, but we’ve seen it time and again in recent years. It is especially concerning, however, when the state seeks to meddle with local law enforcement practices that have been proven to work in communities like Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and a number of other Texas cities and towns.
These are not new political strategies. They keep coming up, from former Gov. Rick Perry’s attempt to gain national publicity by proposing anti-immigrant legislation and deriding border communities to the present day proposals. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed in 2011, when Perry’s priority legislative issues on immigration were opposed by a coalition of businesses, law enforcement, civil rights leaders, faith-based organizations, school administrators, and city officials, and ultimately rejected by the Legislature.
So why should U.S. citizens, Latino or otherwise, care what happens to undocumented immigrants? Why shouldn’t we take a punitive, harsh approach to those who did not arrive through the proper channels?
Putting aside the fact that the “proper channels” are hopelessly and indisputably broken and unfair, with even those who qualify – like families seeking to be reunited – waiting for years with no guarantee, what happens to anyone within our borders should be of concern to all of us.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals, such as those to repeal in-state tuition for Texas Dreamers or to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, inevitably lead to attacks on U.S. citizens, especially Latinos. For example, Texas recently made it difficult, if not impossible, for certain U.S. citizens – children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States – to get birth certificates. This, in turn, creates an unnecessary bureaucratic obstacle when families try to enroll these children in school. This doesn’t even take into account the increase of hate crimes that spike after a rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric by prominent elected officials or presidential candidates like Donald Trump.
The freedom and Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, and our national value of welcoming newcomers, become casualties in this war on immigrants. So do our budgets. In the last legislative session, the state decided to get into federal immigration enforcement by expanding the state police department by hundreds of officers and spending almost $1 billion. This despite the fact that border communities have lower crime rates than the state average, that the federal government has doubled its Border Patrol, and the absence of any evidence indicating that the state’s activities on the border will make a dent in the state’s overall crime rate. Meanwhile, residents in border communities have had to get used to the kinds of routine Fourth Amendment and civil rights infringements that residents elsewhere in the state would not tolerate.
We know immigration issues serve as an electoral litmus test, and we’re seeing another unfortunate turn toward base political instincts where there seems to be no downside to scapegoating immigrants, especially in conservative states like Texas. But while there may not be an immediate political cost, there is a significant policy downside, and most importantly, an unquestionable human toll on immigrants and citizens alike.