The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

‘Big, awful game of political theater:’ Tensions continue to rise between Texas and Biden administration

Jake Cox
A photo illustration of a Texas flag and barbed wire, superimposed over an image of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, A participant carries a sign outside of a “Take Our Border Back” rally, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Quemado, Texas and a photo of the Supreme Court inside of a silhouette of Texas. Photo of participant by (AP Photo/Eric Gay). Other images used under Creative Commons.

The ongoing immigration battle between the Texas government andBiden administration has been characterized by Supreme Court cases, new congressional bills and thousands of miles of razor wire along the border.

In the months preceding the 2024 presidential election, immigration has ignited significant tensions between Texas Gov. Greg Abbot and President Joe Biden, as lawmakers failed to ratify comprehensive immigration policy.

Abbott’s Operation Lone Star has been a point of contention between the state and federal governments. 

Created in March 2021, Abbott, a Republican, launched the operation in response to the increase in “illegal immigration” at the Texas-Mexico border. 

Under Operation Lone Star, Abbott has ordered state police to arrest migrants suspected of trespassing, placed 1,000-foot buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande River, and has spent millions of dollars to install 70,000 rolls of concertina wire. 

Brad Jones, professor of political science at the University of California, Davis and media liaison for Humane Borders, calls Abbott’s actions “theatrics,” especially in the context of an election year where immigration is at the forefront of political debate.

“First and foremost, what’s going on is a little bit of theatrics, but theatrics that involve human lives,” Jones said.

The U.S. Border Patrol and the Biden Administration came under scrutiny from the Republican governor when they obstructed the razor wire installed on the border.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favor of the Biden administration and gave Border Patrol the authority to alter the barrier.

Andrew Mahaleris, spokesperson for Abbott, said the absence of razor wire “encourages migrants to make unsafe and illegal crossings between ports of entry” and that Abbott will continue “fighting to defend Texas’ property and its constitutional authority to secure the border.” 

The Supreme Court order did not explain the justices’ decisions, still giving Texas the authority to erect these barriers along the border, according to Joe Tafoya, a DePaul political science professor.

“The Supreme Court ruled the federal government has the right to remove the razor wire, but that’s all they said, so Texas double-downed and added more razor wire,” Tafoya said. 

The latest point of debate comes as the Biden administration filed a lawsuit against Texas  Feb. 14 over Senate Bill 4 (S.B. 4), a law signed by Abbott in December and poised to take effect in March.

S.B. 4 rules illegally crossing the border, such as crossing through the Rio Grande, as a state crime.

Any migrant seen by police crossing the border not through ports of entry can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, resulting in deportation back to Mexico or up to six months in jail. “Repeat offenders” could face a second-degree penalty, with a threat of jail time up to 20 years. 

 Kathleen Arnold, another DePaul political science professor and director of forced immigration and refugee studies, expresses concerns about what S.B.4 would mean for asylum seekers and refugees.

“I think they’re concerns that it will destroy the refugee or asylum system, that it’s going to criminalize anyone arriving at the border, and not give them time to express that they have a well-founded fear of persecution,” Arnold said.

Kristin Etter, of the Texas Immigration Law Council, speaks at a news conference before a court hearing about the constitutionality of Senate Bill 4 at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Austin, Texas, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. The Texas bill allows police to arrest migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border and give local judges authority to order them to leave the country. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

As the country gears up for a presidential election year, immigration is quickly emerging as a top issue. 

As 2.5 million migrants and asylum-seekers crossed the border in 2023, many are sent on buses to cities like Chicago and New York, further fueling the partisan divide over immigration policy, according to Tafoya.

“I think the immigration debate is a very real fight over the future character of the country,” Tafoya said.

The U.S. Department of Justice and not-for-profit organizations argue that only the federal government has the authority to enforce immigration laws, a long-standing precedent in American policy.

Arnold says this is the main aspect that she would change about immigration policy, and that current policies do not align with what is truly happening at the border.

“I think our policies are really bad,” Arnold said. “They don’t match the realities on the ground and have much more to do with appeasing public sympathy rather than actual migration flows.”

Abbott, along with the 25 other Southern governors standing in support of Texas, claim that Texas has a “right to defend itself” as they say the Biden administration has not done enough to secure the border. 

Abbott continues to depict the situation at the border as an “invasion,” which Jones says heightens the immigration debate. 

“Pitting this as a state’s rights issue, pitting this as an issue of a state being invaded to justify not adhering to a Supreme Court ruling, I think it’s all part of this big, awful game of political theater,” Jones said.

Tafoya says this use of “natural disaster” metaphors to describe the high volumes of people crossing the southern border further dehumanizes migrants, many of whom are children.

“If we say it’s an invasion, we forget that two-year-olds are crossing the desert,” Tafoya said. “By the time they arrive at the U.S. border, they are tired, they are traumatized.”

Misinformation is extremely prevalent in the immigration debate, according to Arnold.

“I would change the discourse, the discourse has really infected people and it’s misinformed the public, so they think even refugee seekers, particularly Venezuelans are criminals, and the government knows that’s not true,” Arnold said.

As Abbott and the Biden administration continue to publicly display harsh disagreements, Jones says that Abbott is “seeking to up the ante with the Biden administration” ahead of the election.

“In years past you wouldn’t say this out loud, these days we say it out loud, and what is he saying? ‘I want Biden to take the blame for this,’” Jones said.

Jones said that even if border policies comply more with Conservative-aligned “hyper enforcement policies,” this would not stop migrants and asylum seekers from crossing the border.

“In Arizona, that means entering or getting dropped off in very remote parts of the desert, far away from water,” Jones said. “That increases the likelihood of suffering, injury, or even death.”

The International Organization for Migration reported 686 deaths and disappearances of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border in 2022. This figure makes the U.S.-Mexico border the deadliest land route for migrants on record.

As these conditions continue at the border, Arnold believes that this is an example of human rights violations.

“I think a lot of (the policies) are highly performative and militarized, and really don’t match human rights concerns or any sort of democratic rights claims,” Arnold said.

Organizations like Humane Borders offer resources, such as water stations in the desert for people making the journey to cross the border. 

But as the number of migrants and asylum-seekers at the border continues to grow, Jones said Humane Borders have even begun placing water stations right at the border to offer this valuable resource to migrants.

“We’re prepared for the heat, but dealing with high, soaring temperatures and hundreds and hundreds of people is not something we’ve had to deal with,” Jones said. “The real scary moments are about to come because the summer months are coming.”

Tafoya said that the practices at the border reflect the character of the country.

“We’re looking at people as expendable,” Tafoya said. “If we’re subjecting people to those conditions, who are we?”

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