Citing the high volume of illegal border crossings, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for relevant state agencies and border counties and embarked on a series of actions to cover areas that, according to him, the Biden administration has neglected in immigration enforcement. The most important are the directives for building additional barriers in the U.S. UU. The timing and political context of these measures will be underscored when the governor visits the border on June 30 with former President Donald Trump.
For Trump, immigration was an emblematic issue, both as an activist and later as president, and with this visit he makes it clear that he will continue to be so, as he seeks to maintain his control over the Republican Party. Immigration remains a politically important issue at the national level, especially as record numbers of migrants and asylum seekers have been intercepted at the border in recent months. Vice President Kamala Harris, an emissary appointed by President Joe Biden to address the growing migration from Central America, visited the border a few days before Trump, following criticism, in particular from Republicans, who say that the administration's policies have led to an increase in the number of arrivals. Texas takes matters into its own hands Texas law broadly defines a disaster as “the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or serious harm, injury, or loss of life or property as a result of any natural or man-made cause.
It is up to the governor alone to declare if a disaster has occurred. Litigation has been the main avenue for strong Texas leadership on immigration. In fact, the state's Attorney General, Ken Paxton, earned a reputation as a powerful legal force to take on Democratic administrations. However, since many of Biden's actions are considered to be designed in a way that makes them more immune to legal challenges than the measures of Barack Obama and Trump, along with the recent political vulnerabilities of Paxton, who faces serious crimes of stock fraud and allegations of abuse of power, Abbott may have opted for a political strategy to challenge the Biden administration.
While the power to regulate immigration has historically been considered an exclusively federal authority, Congress and courts over the years have allowed states some role in immigration enforcement policy. As immigration has become an increasingly polarized issue, the assertion of state and local authority has taken on a sharper political nuance, and both Democrats and Republicans are eager to demonstrate their partisan good faith through policies that range from reducing or ordering cooperation with the United States,. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will send members of the National Guard to the border. The governor's own statements indicate that he could try to build fences on voluntarily donated land, in an attempt to overcome obstacles to acquiring private land.
This strategy could work if the only goal is to build barriers anywhere along the border. However, if the placement of barriers is intended to be strategic and if sections of the barrier must be contiguous, voluntary donations are unlikely to produce that result. Policy Beat in your inbox every month The previous challenges of state and private border security measures increase arrests and detentions In his May 31 order declaring a state of disaster, Abbott ordered state law enforcement to “prevent criminal activity along the border, including illegal entry, smuggling and trafficking in persons, and to assist Texas counties in their efforts to address those criminal activities. In accordance with the directive, the state has deployed 1,000 soldiers from the Department of Public Safety and 500 members of the National Guard.
Arizona has also sent state police and National Guard forces to the border. In addition, Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, also a Republican, announced in June that they would activate a state mutual aid agreement known as the Emergency Management Assistance Pact and would request that other states send their own law enforcement officers to help with arrests along the border. This pact has been used many times to provide support when a state suffered the consequences of a natural disaster or organized an event that needed additional security, but has never before been used to enforce immigration laws. By mid-June, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota had sent law enforcement officers to the border, and Georgia and South Carolina had sent National Guard troops, according to Abbott.
Arrests made pursuant to the disaster declaration have an additional impact, as penalties for some state crimes increase when they are committed in an area designated as a disaster. For example, under normal circumstances in Texas there is not necessarily a minimum sentence for criminal search, but during a disaster, a minimum of six months' imprisonment is imposed. As ordered by the governor, illegal entry is likely to constitute a significant part of arrests, and state laws against trafficking and smuggling can also be enforced. Abbott has also ordered an increase in arrests for federal crimes.
In asking other states to send resources to Texas, Abbott cited a 1996 opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), according to which state and local police personnel could make arrests for all criminal immigration offenses, but not for civil offenses, such as illegal presence in the United States. While federal law overrides the views of the OLC, even this opinion made it clear that aliens arrested using this authority can only be detained long enough for immigration agents to arrive and decide how to proceed. Therefore, any arrests made by state officials for federal criminal violations would face legal challenge if they did not meet these requirements. The state section of the American Civil Liberties Union has warned counties not to arrest people because of their immigration status, which is likely a prelude to a court battle.
Ending state licensing of shelters for unaccompanied children The third aspect of Abbott's policy is to order the state agency that licenses children's shelters in Texas to cancel the licenses of those who receive grants and contracts with the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide care for unaccompanied migrant children. Existing licenses must be liquidated before August 30, affecting up to 52 centers with a capacity for 4,200 children by mid-May. This plan would not prevent unaccompanied children from reaching the United States, but would only require them to be held elsewhere. New migrant children are likely to be diverted to temporary emergency centers, which offer worse conditions than shelters and are significantly more expensive.
Ironically, these facilities could be located in Texas. An emergency center in Texas, in Fort Bliss, has come under significant scrutiny. Reports have revealed that children held there, some for extended periods, suffer from depression and anxiety, leading to self-harm; they struggle to receive medical treatment despite outbreaks of head lice, COVID-19, flu and strep throat; and they receive little education or recreational time. By early June, more than 100 children had lived in Fort Bliss for more than two months.
The center housed 790 children as of June 28, but it can house up to 10,000 children and its population could increase if authorized shelters in Texas are closed in accordance with the governor's order. HHS has threatened to sue the state if it proceeds to rescind the licenses, arguing that attacking its beneficiaries constitutes unconstitutional discrimination against agencies that work with the federal government. According to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal law replaces that of states, and states cannot enact their own contradictory laws in areas regulated by the federal government or prevent it from enforcing laws enacted by Congress. While Abbott's new immigration enforcement actions have received significant attention, it's not as clear if his plans can be implemented.
And it is even less certain that they will be able to achieve their intended goals. For the construction of the wall, the cooperation of the owners is key, but it is far from assured. Even if the planned criminalization of federally contracted shelters survives a potential legal challenge, the federal government could simply use or establish other emergency admission sites in Texas. And while the governor may have more exclusive control over the ability to send law enforcement to arrest and detain people crossing the border, the move will surely generate legal scrutiny that can be difficult to overcome.
If the intended goal of Abbott's strategy is to stop illegal immigration, Texas will almost certainly fall short. Border walls, even when carefully planned, don't stop illegal immigration; they divert it. If Texas increases arrests, many migrants will choose to cross a different part of the border. If children cannot be housed in state-authorized shelters in Texas, they will be held in alternative facilities.
Therefore, the governor's strategy may be driven less by the desire to achieve real results and more by generating winning comments in a hyperpolarized environment. Texas Code, Section 418,014, “Declaration of a State of Disaster”. Available online. Texas Penal Code, section 12.50, “Penalty if the crime is committed in a disaster area or in an evacuated area.
Muzaffar Chishti is a principal investigator at the MPI and director of the MPI office at New York University School of Law. Jessica Bolter was an associate policy analyst at MPI and worked with the U.S. Department of State. Policy Beat in the MPI online magazine Each month, MPI authors review key legislative, judicial, and executive actions in the U.S.
Immigration at the local, state and federal levels. Keep up to date with the latest news. The immigrant population at the forefront Do you want to learn more about immigrants arriving in the United States from Mexico, India, Canada, or many other countries? Spotlights, published in the MPI's online magazine, Migration Information Source, uses the most recent data to provide information on the size, geographical distribution and socioeconomic characteristics of certain immigrant groups, including English proficiency, educational and professional level, income and poverty, health coverage and remittances. I will work with anyone, regardless of party, to ensure that Texas is THE leader on immigration.
In January, Roy introduced legislation, called the Border Security and Protection Act, to give the Secretary of Homeland Security the ability to close border crossings and detain asylum seekers while their cases are being processed in court. Republican campaigns in Texas have invoked the importance of border security fairly regularly over the past two decades, and they have undoubtedly made those messages (and policies, in most cases) known to Republican voters. When asked more specifically to give their opinion on what the legislature should prioritize in this legislative session using an open-ended question format in which respondents could give whatever priority they wanted, most of the Republicans in the February and April polls (49% and 43%, respectively) offered something to do with immigration or border security, without any other topic coming up in terms of attention. Abbott's communication efforts focused on promoting the Texas Tactical Border Force and accusing the Biden Administration of “working collaboratively with drug cartels.”.
And if we look at the data, it's hard not to see a pattern in which summer begins and focuses increasingly on the border, peaking near the end of the year in the October elections. In the context of immigration, but also in its response to the new civil rights protests triggered by police violence against arrested blacks and to the broader debate on race following the white supremacist demonstration “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, less than a year after his election, his interpretation of a forgotten “silent majority” reinforced the group identity of his followers. While popular and (especially) academic uses of the term nativism vary, most definitions consider it rooted in the belief that immigration from other countries must be limited to protect a country's national well-being (cultural or otherwise) from the inherent threat posed by the current and future presence of non-native people. Trump's reordering of Republican politics, expressed in part in his administration's expressed desire to adopt aggressive measures to stop legal and undocumented immigration, provides a different context for thinking about some of the results already mentioned above, in particular, attitudes toward some of the policies implemented by his administration and the underlying problems they raised.
The perpetual search by Texas leaders for ways to respond to (and therefore benefit from) the prominence of border security and immigration among Republican voters, acting in a political arena once assigned to the federal government, could reasonably, if somewhat cynically, be considered as a simple gestural policy and even a matter of theater. In addition to the results already described above, the survey results suggest that the details of who seeks to enter the border, or the specific aspects of those who seek to enter, are likely to change immigration and border security policy in terms of public and political opinion. Throughout the dataset examined here, a large proportion of Independents and, in many cases, a non-trivial proportion of Democrats also reveal their concern for immigration and border security, and a negative view of the consequences of the impact of demographic changes in the United States. One of the effects of this dual intervention by the Republican Party by incumbents and their constituents is that the increase in border security spending contained in the House and Senate versions of their respective budget bills is one of the few major policy areas where the two houses and their leaders have shown no significant public disagreement this session.
The discourse and policy emanating from the governor's mansion, with the cooperation of an institutionally declining legislature, are a long way from the days when then-Governor Rick Perry tried to harness similar sentiments, albeit more carefully, in trying to distinguish a militant, hardline attitude on border security from a more measured stance toward undocumented immigrants already in the United States. Many Republicans in the Senate are taking a more moderate tone on border issues in relation to the House of Representatives, hoping to pass a bipartisan package because of the political reality of working in a minority. .