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J.D. Long GarcíaDecember 20, 2023
Migrants wait to climb over concertina wire after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed three bills into law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration in the state, funding more border security initiatives and making illegal border crossings a state crime.

Local law enforcement can now arrest migrants who cross the border illegally and local judges can order them to leave the country, The Associated Press reports. Additionally, the Texas legislature has allocated $1.54 billion more to border security.

Mr. Abbott predicted the number of people crossing illegally into Texas would drop by “well over 50 percent, maybe 75 percent,” though he did not offer evidence for that estimate. “The consequences of it are so extreme that the people being smuggled by the cartels, they will not want to be coming into the state of Texas,” he said.

But Dylan Corbett, the executive director of the Hope Border Institute, called the measure “inhumane, immoral and unconstitutional.”

“Its only aim is to criminalize people seeking safety at the border and instill fear in families throughout Texas,” he said. “It will disastrously make every Texan less safe by eroding fundamental community trust with law enforcement. The Biden administration needs to take immediate action to stop this and every action being taken by Governor Abbott to weaponize our border and cynically deploy our peace officers against the vulnerable.”

Melissa Lopez, the executive director of El Paso’s Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, said in a statement that Texas “continues its assault on people of color.”

“The law is unconstitutional, inhumane, and an overly broad encroachment of federal immigration authority,” Ms. Lopez said. “The State’s assault on migrants has resulted in far too many deaths. Countless people will lose their lives, end up in jail, and be deported before legal challenges invalidate the law. The enforcement of this law will come at the expense of human dignity and human rights. The State of Texas is undertaking more and more dangerous tactics at every turn with no sign of letting up. We must protect anyone impacted or affected by S.B. 4. We must ensure they have access to legal representation, understand their rights, and know how to assert them when confronted by law enforcement.”

While the law is scheduled to go into effect this March, experts expect it to face challenges in court.

“Governor Abbott and his enablers in the Texas Legislature are coming up with ever more questionable ways to spend billions of Texas taxes to militarize border enforcement and criminalize migrants who are fleeing political, religious and criminal violence and persecution in countries across the world,” the Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations said in a statement.

“Local police officers will be asked to become immigration enforcement officers, undermining their ability to develop trusting relationships with immigrant communities who they are asked to protect,” they continued.

Mr. Abbott, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, has bused tens of thousands of asylum seekers from his state to Democratic states like California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. Such efforts have drawn criticism from Catholic bishops as well as the editors of America. Mr. Abbott has also garnered national attention for installing razor wire along the Texas border.

Jennifer Allmon, the executive director of the Texas bishops’ conference, called the legislation “grossly imprudent” and said it “could have deadly consequences for innocent migrants.”

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has supported the church’s teaching on immigration in the state. With respect to the latest developments, the conference pointed to expert testimony offered earlier last month by Justin Estep, the senior director of Immigration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of Central Texas.

“We understand the situation at the border has become untenable, but H.B. 4 is not the solution,” Mr. Estep said. “The church will continue to work with civic leaders, especially our Texas legislators, to uphold the rights and dignity of every person and to foster the common good.”

Last year, in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the bishops reaffirmed their commitment to continue the church’s ministries of outreach and education “and to work responsibly to serve the common good of all people in the State of Texas while being especially mindful of the more vulnerable and marginalized among us.”

Mr. Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, a unilateral response to conditions at the border with Mexico, in March of 2021. The operation enlisted the Texas National Guard to patrol “high threat areas to deny Mexican cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas.” As of this summer, the operation had cost an estimated $4.5 billion.

“These mothers, fathers, children, and others are doing what anyone would do to find a better life. They have moved to secure honest work and a safe community,” the Texas bishops said this summer. “The fact that they were born in a place which could not provide these basic human rights does not give anyone the right to treat them inhumanely.”

Material from OSV News was used in this story.

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