By David Stout
HB 4/SB 4, approved by the Texas House and Senate and likely to be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, is the worst example yet of the Texas Legislature wasting public money and time on its venal political campaign against migrants.
Texas has already approved billions of dollars for immigration enforcement to little effect and no end in sight, leading to a negative and disproportionate impact on border communities like El Paso.
The passage of HB4 feeds an already alarming escalation of extremist anti-immigrant rhetoric in Texas. It is of great concern that groups like True Texas Project are suggesting armed vigilantes round up immigrants for state deportation. These groups have even endorsed dangerous rhetoric about faith-based humanitarian organizations aiding “invasion” by migrants.
The very idea of state police deportations, which is enshrined in HB4, came from Texans for Strong Borders, an organization linked to Nick Fuentes and white supremacy.
It’s unbelievable but true that in 2019, a young man drove hundreds of miles from North Texas to El Paso to kill Mexicans because of this very rhetoric. He killed 23 people on Aug. 3, 2019, maimed 22 others, and shattered the sense of security for thousands.
The day before the attack, Gov. Abbott used this rhetoric in a fund-raising email. To his credit, he immediately apologized. But his moment of compassion and clarity wasn’t enough to overcome his political venality. The rhetoric continues to win campaigns, truth be damned, and so it continues from him and others, driving legislation like HB 4/SB 4.
The racist context of this bill and other state immigration enforcement is bad enough, but practically speaking, the Texas Legislature has used Texans’ money for little to no effect regarding public safety. There are no less drugs or crime in the state because of the Texas Legislature’s anti-immigrant spending spree. In fact, study after study shows that immigrants, authorized or not, have lower rates of crime and higher rates of entrepreneurship than native-born Texans.
We should be investing in immigrants, and in the trade and cultural exchange opportunities of the border.
Instead, we have policy malpractice and reckless disregard by the governor and Texas Legislature. Take Operation Lonestar. Of the approximate 500 chases by DPS in El Paso, more than half exceeded 100 mph at some point, and over 60 resulted in accidents, including crashes that led to death and injury.
In urbanized El Paso, these chases are out of compliance with local law enforcement policy, which follows best practices outlined by the International Association of Police Chiefs. Similar pursuits have taken place in other border communities.
HB 4/SB 4 ups the ante. By instilling fear of being targeted, both undocumented and documented immigrants will hesitate to call or work with local law enforcement during emergencies and everyday issues. El Paso law enforcement will also be forced to divert attention and resources from other public safety efforts, and public defenders will have to use limited resources to handle more cases. This legislation will also force judges to add to their current dockets, further straining our judicial system.
Local taxpayers will also have to foot the bill for 88,000 additional arrests per year – the latest estimate from Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw – with a potential increase of 8,000 additional arrests per year just in El Paso County.
Although HB 4 does create a mechanism to deport a person to Mexico, that is voluntary, and if they refuse, they will be charged with felony and processed in county jail. That means that El Paso County would need to build 400 new jail beds, with an estimated cost of $162 million to build. Our operational budget would increase to $42 million to support impacts of this new law, not to mention the loss of income from housing federal detainees in our facilities.
Additionally, the bill has strong unconstitutional provisions. It is a blatant power grab by the state onto areas that fall under federal jurisdiction. By calling for deportation of migrants to Mexico, regardless of their country of origin, the state will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts.
Clearly, they don’t care that they are wasting public money and that they are cozying up to racists. They didn’t care after Aug. 3, 2019. They won’t care until it stops working as a political campaign tactic. It’s long past time to make them care.
David Stout represents Precinct 2 on the El Paso County Commissioners Court.