Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order on immigration and false border security rhetoric could lead to acts of racially driven violence – and resonate dangerously close to the so-called “show me your papers” laws, a group of Democrats and immigration activists said during a press call Wednesday.

Abbott on July 7 issued an executive order authorizing the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety to return to the ports of entry migrants they apprehend for illegally crossing the border. Although the executive order doesn’t declare an invasion, it does claim that the Biden administration has failed to protect the state against one.

Mario Carrillo, campaigns manager for America’s Voice, called the executive order a political stunt and “the most dangerous one yet.”

America’s Voice, the national immigration advocacy organization, organized the press call which included U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso; Antonio Arellano of the youth voting organization NextGen America; former Austin councilman and District 35 congressional candidate Greg Casar; and America’s Voice political director Zachary Mueller.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso

“I am very, very concerned for communities like mine that we will see more acts of violence committed against them,” Escobar said, recalling the El Paso mass shooting of Aug. 3, 2019, where 23 people were killed. The alleged gunman in the shooting drove 10 hours to El Paso to “stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” 

‘Show me your papers’

John Wittman, a former Abbott spokesman, told Newsweek that the governor is frustrated by federal inaction.

“The Biden administration has had ample opportunity to step up and do their job and secure the border,” Wittman told Newsweek, “but the governor has run out of patience.”

In a statement announcing the executive order July 7, Abbott said the state is working to secure the southern border amid what he called Biden’s open border policies.

“While President Biden refuses to do his job and enforce the immigration laws enacted by Congress, the State of Texas is once again stepping up and taking unprecedented action to protect Americans and secure our southern border,” Abbott said in the statement.

The order is not clear on which migrants should be transported back to the ports of entry or what state authorities would do with them once there, the Texas Tribune reports. The ports of entry are manned by federal immigration authorities, raising questions about the legality of the order.

Carrillo said he fears the executive order resonates dangerously close to SB-1070, Arizona’s controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law that included a “show me your papers” provision that allows local police to check the immigration status of anyone who is lawfully stopped. The provision has led to racial profiling of Latinos.

But Carrillo and the other immigration advocates point to more than the governor’s recent executive order as cause for concern.

Gov. Greg Abbott addresses border county sheriffs gathered at the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition meeting in El Paso on April 11, 2022. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Border security claims

On May 20, in anticipation of the end of Title 42, Abbott activated the Joint Border Security Operations Center, directing DPS and other state law enforcement and emergency response agencies to coordinate “Texas’ response to secure the border.”

Title 42, a provision that rapidly expels migrants to Mexico or other countries, was set to end on May 23 before a federal judge in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration from ending it.

Abbott in March 2021 launched Operation Lone Star to ramp up security along the Texas-Mexico border, deploying resources from DPS and the National Guard. The state Legislature has allocated about $4 billion to the effort since, the Texas Tribune reports.

The Texas Tribune and ProPublica discovered that the Department of Justice is investigating alleged civil rights violations regarding the governor’s controversial Operation Lone Star initiative. The initiative has mostly led to migrants being arrested on state trespassing charges, with lawyers for some of the migrants citing due-process violations, the news organizations found.

Arellano, of NextGen America, in the press call said that Abbott and other Republican politicians and candidates for public office across the state are doubling down on the anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric.

“One in three Texans are immigrants or a child of immigrants,” Arellano said, adding that young voters make up the largest eligible voting block in the state. “They are not recognizing our power in Texas.”

Seeking a third term in office, Abbott faces former Democratic El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke in the Nov. 8 election.

Border Patrol agent Valeria Morales speaks with a 17-year-old Guatemalan girl who was detained on Mount Cristo Rey on April 8. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Migrant encounters 

The U.S. Border Patrol reports more than 1.4 million encounters with migrants along the Southwest border so far this fiscal year – a 60% increase over this time last fiscal year.

As of May, the Border Patrol El Paso sector has seen a 56% increase in the number of encounters with migrants this fiscal year compared to this time last year. Many of those nearly 178,000 encounters are likely repeat border crossers, who face no consequences for returning after expulsion.

Escobar said that the fluctuation is not new and that the bigger picture must be considered. That, she said, includes that many of the Trump-era immigration policies are still in place and cannot be blamed on the current administration.

Beyond that, she said, the current situation is the result of 30 years of no comprehensive federal immigration reform and the geopolitical shifts happening across the world.

Preying on fear

Border Network for Human Rights Executive Director Fernando Garcia agrees.

In a recent interview with El Paso Matters, Garcia said he was dismayed that the Biden administration also has failed on its promise of immigration reform.

“Very little has happened and the waiting has made some things worse,” he said. 

Garcia said he believes Title 42 should have been repealed a year ago and not during an election year and that the administration should have been better prepared for the end of Migrant Protection Protocols, the so-called remain in Mexico policy.

Late last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the Biden administration has the discretionary authority to end the Trump-era policy, which forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are heard in U.S. immigration courts. The case was sent back to a district court.

The Department of Homeland Security on its website said it’s “continuing its efforts to terminate the program as soon as legally permissible” but is for now keeping the policy in place.

But even strong policies often lack public support because hateful rhetoric takes over, Garcia warned.

“What is clear to us is that it doesn’t matter how good your policy is or how sensible or urgent it is, when confronted with a narrative of fear and hate, that rhetoric is successful because it preys on our emotions, on our fears.”

“How do we create that successful narrative that America is going to be better the more diverse we are?” Garcia said.

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...