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How the Texas Legislature may address immigration in the current session

Jerry Clayton

The 88th Texas legislative session has begun. Lawmakers will debate a number of topics involving immigration and Governor Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star program. TPR’s Jerry Clayton spoke with Roberto Lopez, community organizer at the Texas Civil Rights Project about his group’s thoughts on immigration issues in the current session.

Clayton: When it comes to the legislature, do you see anything happening in the area of family separation, which has been a big problem here in Texas?

Lopez: (We are) apprehending immigrants by the thousands and keeping them in state prisons in horrible conditions, and a lot of those individuals, a lot of those men or fathers, a lot of them have family members, even if they're not, you know, a biological father, they may be taking care of other kids and they're coming over here to this country because of desperate situations, due to climate change, due to economic hardship, due to local persecution.

We as a state have been systematically putting thousands and thousands of men behind bars. So I think that keeping people locked up for months on end with very little resources, what we expect in the upcoming legislative session is a continuing, targeting of immigrants across the state, be them migrants who are crossing the border or those who live on the border, or just Latinos and immigrants across the interior.

And so I think what we're going to continue to see is more of a hardening of our policies that continue to keep families separated from each other for longer than, I mean, anything longer than a day or, you know, keeping people incommunicado out of reach from a child or a loved one. I think we're going to continue to see that just grow even worse in the upcoming legislative session.

Clayton: There have been on and off again attempts to build a wall on the border. What's your prediction on where these efforts are going to go?

Lopez: So we have HB 20 by Representative Slaton, which would go towards creating a new border security enhancement fund. Governor Abbott has already amassed $4 billion for Operation Lone Star. He has been using some of this funding to go in and drop off storage crates, big containers at the border. I've seen them in Eagle Pass.

One thing that's also quite funny, for lack of a better word, sadly, is, is that in Mission, Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley, where I'm from, border wall construction is continuing still. I tweeted this out a few months ago and showed that President Biden is actually building a border wall in South Texas.

Governor Abbott made a really big show recently in El Paso of handing the president a letter. And one of the points on that letter was to resume border wall construction. Well, it's so funny to me because in my community they are, you know, the president of the United States, even though he said not one more foot is constructing a border wall in the Rio Grande Valley.

It is happening. And I wish it wasn't the case, but there will probably be more money allocated for constructing things like a border wall at the state level. The governor has been trying to do that in creative ways. But with this new revenue windfall, it could very easily be codified by May.

Clayton: What things would your organization most like to see happen in this legislative session?

Lopez: You know, border communities have a deep need for investment in infrastructure, for investment in health care. We continue to be some of the most under-resourced counties in the country. We have yearly flooding that affects colonias and thousands of of neighborhoods across the border that don't have proper drainage, don't have proper sewage, don't have proper lighting, even.

It's 2023, and that should be the focus, not throwing $8 billion towards more trooper overtime, towards more stops. And I hope that rather than continuing to approach it with violence and with more guns and more stops, that we approach it with welcome and try to try to improve our borders rather than just turn them into major prison projects.

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Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Jerry Clayton