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Texas Shamefully Doubling Down on Operation Lone Star with New Bills

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 16, 2023


Washington, D.C. – The #WelcomewithDignity campaign implores the Biden administration to call out Texan lawmakers’ latest border management efforts that disproportionately target Black and Brown people as a clear overstep in the state’s jurisdiction on immigration. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas state legislature have doubled down on Operation Lone Star, passing new bills on Tuesday that expand on the state’s racist and cruel immigration policy. 


These bills violate international treaties and domestic laws. They make crossing into the country anywhere other than a port of entry a state crime and give local and state law enforcement officers and judges sweeping authority to arrest, prosecute, and deport anyone they suspect of crossing into Texas from Mexico. Undoubtedly, these bills impact Texans, long-time community members, and people seeking asylum. They seek to override the federal government’s authority and give Texas the power to prosecute people before their asylum cases are resolved.


Since its inception, Operation Lone Star has cost the state of Texas more than $10 billion, money that should be spent to bolster border communities for healthcare, education, infrastructure, and more. With these new bills, an additional $1.5 billion has been handed to the governor to expand the state’s border wall and its inhumane, deadly river buoy system in the Rio Grande. 


“These new measures directly target Black and Brown people – whether they are seeking asylum or are long-time community members. Our partners in Texas have been working to defeat these hateful, xenophobic bills and Operation Lone Star since it first went into effect. The federal government must intervene and put a stop to the state of Texas’s continued assault on the asylum system,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign Manager. “This is an assault on the notion that America is a beacon of hope for people seeking refuge.”


“Governor Abbott has a long history of attacking the most vulnerable asylum-seekers and immigrants in Texas and his anticipated signature on SB4 is the latest cruelty. Deputizing Texas law enforcement and judges to make arrests and banish people from the United States is not just abhorrent, it is also illegal. As a California-based immigrants’ rights organization, Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) stands in solidarity with our partners in Texas to condemn this radical, inhumane, and unlawful bill,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, ImmDef Executive Director. 


“SB 4 is unconstitutional, anti-immigrant, and illegal. Not only will it endanger both migrants and border communities alike, it will further undermine the functioning of our immigration system. Imitating prior ‘show me your papers’ laws in Arizona and Alabama, SB 4 will sow fear and division within communities, creating a less safe environment for all,” said Marisa Limón Garza, Executive Director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, in El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and New Mexico. “Similarly, SB 3 will push migrants into more dangerous border crossings, leading to more and more deaths. It is truly shameful that the Texas legislators who supported SB 4 and SB 3 failed to consider the severe consequences that it will have on Texans. In these bills Texas doubles down on failure, doing so with money out of our pockets. We can’t allow our elected officials to misuse our legal systems to do the work of white supremacists. We urge the Department of Justice and the Biden administration to step in and immediately halt SB 4’s  inherent discrimination from moving forward.”


“Texas lawmakers decided that the best use of their time in an extraordinary session was to further criminalize our neighbors and our communities. SB 4 and SB 3 will do nothing but target Black and Brown Texas residents, separate families, and waste taxpayer money on increasing pain against migrants as a form of deterrence that over and over has proven failed,” said Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of the Hope Border Institute. “Make no mistake, these laws will be declared unconstitutional. We urge the Biden administration to challenge Operation Lone Star once and for all. We implore Texas lawmakers to focus on the real problems of our communities, like the lack of investment in healthcare or education, and to condemn rhetoric that led to the mass shooting in our community in El Paso. We call on Texas residents and people of faith to continue seeing the humanity in our neighbors and reject these efforts to transform our communities into mass suspicion areas.”


“Children—and all people—have the right to seek protection anywhere along our border. That is not an opinion—that is fact under long-standing asylum law,” said Alexis Bay, Health Justice Legal Fellow at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Right. “SB4 is an outright violation of this right and paves a dangerous path for state law enforcement to target children and arrest and imprison them simply for migrating and entering Texas between ports of entry. At the same time, the federal government is turning back many children and families when they try to access ports of entry to ask for help, leaving many with no choice but to seek safety elsewhere along the border. As Governor Abbott prepares to sign the bill into state law, we implore the Biden Administration with the greatest sense of urgency to immediately challenge the legal violations of children’s rights under SB4.” 


“For decades, Texas has welcomed families fleeing violence, persecution, and desperation from around the globe. These families have created businesses, joined our congregations, established roots, contributed to the local economy, and become our neighbors, all while trying to make Texas the best state in the union. Likewise, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers have found the state to be a place of welcome, where they can raise their children in safety and provide a future where they realize their dreams and enrich the greater community at the same time,” said Meredith Owen, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Church World Service. “The legislature of the Lone Star State must recognize the contributions of all of its people, and summarily strike down these prejudicial and xenophobic proposals. The fact is that Governor Abbott is immorally leveraging vulnerable populations to drum up political support and send a message of exclusion; if passed, these proposals will significantly harm his state and all the people that call it home.”


“The face of God is who we see as each migrant and asylum seeker crosses dangerous lands in search of safety and comfort to reach our country. Texas’ new group of anti-immigrant bills is extreme and likely unconstitutional. People have the right to migrate and the right to be treated with dignity. The United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants who have enriched and advanced our communities. Governor Abbott is expected very soon to sign these new bills into Texas law. They are not the answer and the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd calls on the Biden Administration to immediately challenge these laws in court,” said Fran Eskin-Royer, Executive Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.


“The Biden administration cannot let SB4 stand,” said HIAS Policy Counsel Vanessa Dojaquez-Torres. “This overreach into federal authority is a gross violation of domestic and international law. Since deterrence and punitive measures have long been shown to be ineffective, SB 4 was plainly crafted to circumvent federal immigration authorities to institute dangerous and racist policies. As a nation, we must reject the actions of the State of Texas and make it clear that SB 4 and other similar pieces of legislation are unacceptable. At a time of unprecedented migration, resources must be focused on providing solutions that do not come at the cost of our border’s security or human lives rather than the type of vigilante justice SB4 seems to codify.”


“These measures are racist at the core and disproportionately impact Black and Brown asylum seekers and community members. The federal government must intervene to stop Texas’ assault on the asylum system, which undermines America’s belief as a refuge for those in need,” said Fatima Saidi, We Are All America Campaign Director. “We must remember that our nation’s legal and ethical responsibilities are to uphold the values of humanity, and empathy should always be our priority. We must continue to advocate for the rights and safety of asylum seekers, no matter the political climate or external pressures.”

“In addition to being unconstitutional, the law passed by the Texas legislature allowing state law enforcement to arrest and deport immigrants crossing from Mexico is inhumane and morally repugnant,”  said Sister Marie Lucey, Associate Director of Franciscan Action Network. “We Franciscans urge the Biden Administration to strongly challenge SB 4 as illegal, anti-immigrant, and racist. Many, if not most members of the Texas legislature claim to be Christian, but SB4 is contrary to Gospel values and principles. FAN upholds the God-given dignity and rights of all people. The Texas legislature could and should work to improve processing and provide humanitarian assistance at their border, not enact cruel laws like SB4 and also SB3 to fund continued construction of the border wall, a waste of taxpayers’ money which would push migrants into more dangerous crossings.”

  

“These bills seek to criminalize people seeking safety, and are yet another state-led effort to bypass already-inadequate federal immigration protections,” said Laurie Ball Cooper, U.S. Legal Services Director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). “Not only do these bills harm immigrants, they encourage racial profiling and represent a danger to all Texans.”


“Too many times in our history have we seen legislation be proposed that is meant to target and strike fear in the members of our communities. Laws like SB 4 go directly against the beliefs and ideals our nation was founded upon. Allowing racist laws like these to be enacted is to turn our back on the people who are the foundation of our nation, strengthen our economy, and it’s NOT American to foster fear in the lives of our neighbors,” said Mufalo Chitam, the Executive Director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.


“These new Texas measures are probably unconstitutional and illegal. Our Unitarian Universalist partners in Texas have repeatedly denounced #SB3 and #SB4 as anti-immigration bills, and they vow to continue opposing the measures,” said Pablo DeJesús, Executive Director of Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice. “We understand these bills to target Black and Brown folks and incentivize racial and ethnic profiling, systemic othering. We are firm in the fact that our faith compels us to be welcoming and treat all people with dignity. We urge the Biden Administration to challenge these measures in the strongest terms, and with the greatest sense of urgency.”


“These new measures are another blatant attempt to clearly violate the rights of asylum-seekers and expose residents of Texas to criminal charges, based solely on a policy that violates the right to seek asylum. Unsurprisingly, SB4 would also have a disproportionately large negative impact on Black and Brown asylum seekers. We strongly urge the Biden administration and Department of Justice to intervene and prevent this abhorrent measure from moving forward,"said Ali Aljundi, Membership Manager at Refugee Congress.


“These xenophobic bills continue to disproportionately impact Black and Brown immigrant survivors of gender-based violence and dehumanize people seeking safety and refuge in the state of Texas,” said Katharina Dechert, Tahirih Justice Center Houston Policy and Advocacy Manager. “Texas and the United States have a legal and moral obligation to protect all asylum seekers and immigrants, particularly women, children, and all who experience gender-based violence, from further harm. These bills, which authorize Texas to remove people from the U.S., enhance penalties for smuggling, and increase the construction of deadly border security infrastructure, not only violate the right to due process immigrants have under U.S. law, but will also drive survivors of violence further from safety when they feel they can not turn to law enforcement for assistance due to the risk of illegal deportation. The federal government must intervene to ensure that Texas remains a place that welcomes all.”

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The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign for asylum rights is composed of more than 100 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: welcomewithdignity.org

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