The Texas Legislature approved this week some of the toughest laws against immigrants in the United States. The Republican majority in the state legislature approved a series of norms that criminalize people who cross the border from Mexico. These make it a crime to arrive in Texas illegally and allow state authorities to deport them, the legality of which has been questioned by some experts and human rights organizations. These laws are awaiting enactment by the state governor, Greg Abbott, a politician who has explored radical methods to combat the arrival of immigrants, including sending buses of immigrants to Democratic cities or installing buoys and barbed wire in the Rio Grande. The politician has already indicated that he will sign the initiatives into law.
House Bill (HB) 4 caused days of tension in the legislative body. The state House approved it in late October, on a Thursday at 4:00 a.m. The Republican majority prevailed over attempts by Democratic politicians to derail the proposal by Congressman David Spiller, who represents an upstate county. His proposal allows anyone to be detained at any time and place on suspicion of having illegally entered Texas, a state with a population of about 10 million people of Mexican origin.
The Texas Senate also recently approved an initiative that allows Abbott to use an extraordinary $1.5 billion to strengthen surveillance of the border with Mexico, an area that has seen record numbers of illegal crossings. The politician has said he will use some of the money to extend the state’s immigration wall with Mexico, as well as other barriers that could cut off the flow of arrivals. Abbott is expected to visit the border this weekend alongside Donald Trump, who is campaigning for 2024 on a promise to bring a tough hand back to the area.
The tension caused by the negotiation of HB 4 surfaced in a viral video recorded inside the legislative body. After the vote, Democratic Congressman Armando Walle, of Houston, visibly approached Republican lawmakers who voted for the measure in annoyance. “I can’t drive my brother, my cousin, OK. I can’t take them anywhere, bro? I can’t go to a boda [wedding], I can’t go to a baptism, because my community is being attacked? Y’all don’t understand, the shit that you do hurts our community,” the congressman is heard saying in the video. Republicans just nodded without responding to him.
The new law allows authorities to opt for the deportation to Mexico of anyone suspected of having entered Texas in an irregular manner. If he or she does not leave the United States, he or she could be charged with a new crime that could result in a prison sentence of between two and 20 years.
The Mexican government expressed its rejection of the measure this week. The Mexican Foreign Ministry issued a message on Wednesday, the same day the Mexican president began a visit to the United States to participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, APEC. The criminalization of immigrants, says the Foreign Ministry, “will result in the separation of families, discrimination and racial profiling.” Mexico also rejects a measure that would allow state authorities to detain and return nationals or foreigners to Mexican territory, the statement said.
The López Obrador administration has been in a tug-of-war with its U.S. counterpart on immigration issues for months. That was the focus of the bilateral meeting between Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart on Friday. The two countries already have some agreements in place — at the federal level — for Mexico to receive citizens of some countries who are deported. Mexico, however, has not agreed to receive deportations from states individually nor any state police.
Human rights organizations have made it clear that they will sue the Texas government as soon as Abbott signs this bill into law. The bill “supersedes federal law, promotes racial profiling and harassment, and unconstitutionally authorizes local law enforcement to deport people without due process, regardless of whether the immigrants are seeking asylum or other humanitarian protections,” said Oni Blair, the ACLU’s Texas director. The activist group claims that supremacist groups in the Republican stronghold have shown their support for these rules.
Congressman Walle pointed out this week that the law approved by the Texas Legislature is worse than the famous SB1070 passed by Arizona in 2010. This allowed the police to ask for papers to anyone they wanted and at any time in order to check their legal status in the territory. This rule was challenged in court, and its effects were eroded after several rulings by federal judges. In a landmark case in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local police are not authorized to detain a suspect based solely on his or her immigration status. This responsibility, that court determined, rested with the federal government. However, the ideological balances of the justices have shifted since then.
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