By Pablo Alvarado, Co-Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is still playing attention-seeking games at the border, using asylum seekers as pawns. He is still shipping migrants out of state to blue cities like New York, Chicago and, this week, Los Angeles. But lately he has raised the stakes. His stunts have gone from hateful to homicidal.
He deploying floating barriers and razor wire to make crossing the Rio Grande more lethal to migrants. Officers in his border-security patrol are reportedly under orders to “push small children and nursing babies back into the Rio Grande” and to deny water to asylum seekers. Migrants desperate enough to cross the river will now be much more likely to drown. And the razor coils will keep Border Patrol agents from reaching them to save their lives.
In any other context or country these developments would be stunning — a state official deciding on his own to turn his section of an international border into a more-efficient killing zone. A death strip whose victims will include mothers with babies in their arms, and young children traveling alone.
Abbott’s act is shocking and disgusting — but hardly surprising. No one who has heard the increasingly inflamed rhetoric about immigrant invasions from him and other right-wing extremists, their ever louder and clearer calls to violence, can say they did not see this coming.
Modern history has shown us time and again that the process of dehumanization moves in only one direction: toward annihilation. The autocrats and xenophobes who have profited politically from waging war on asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants see no reason to stop. And they will not stop until someone stops them. They will keep trying outdo one another and themselves with ever more brutal methods of punishing the perceived enemy. And the fear-mongering right-wing media outlets that have fed this cold-blooded nativist game will keep cheering their side on.
This is how low the “debate” over the United States’ unjust and malfunctioning immigration system has fallen. We’re not arguing about welfare benefits and in-state school tuition anymore. Now we are in the realm of lethal deterrence. After decades of fruitless efforts at reform, after endless cycles of appeasing xenophobes, after ever more border militarization and broken promises of legalization and inclusion, we now see rogue state officials turning the Rio Grande into a DIY Berlin Wall.
Our shock is numbed and indifferent. The White House does not act.
In truth, the federal government started down this road decades ago, by fortifying ports of entry to funnel migrants into deadly remote stretches of southwest desert, there to die by the tens of thousands of heat and dehydration. But border states have never upped the ante so drastically, until now.
How many babies and mothers will drown before someone stops the Governor of Texas from his murderous campaign?
The Biden Administration needs to step in immediately. It needs to seize the reins from Texas’s disgraceful governor and send a message of deterrence to all outlaw governors and their minions. Not just to save migrant lives, although that is the most immediate and urgent need. The White House also needs to uphold the longstanding principle of sole federal authority over immigration policy, and to protect the lives and livelihoods of Texans who don’t want their river so recklessly defaced and disrupted.
When the Supreme Court overturned women’s abortion rights last year, Abbott applauded the decision with a statement that now reeks of hypocrisy and dishonesty:
“Texas is a pro-life state,” he wrote,” and we have taken significant action to protect the sanctity of life.”
Abbott is a liar, a xenophobe and a lawless extremist. He is a clear and present threat to the lives and safety of vulnerable migrants at the border. President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: Imperiled lives are in your hands. Will you protect them?
Pablo Alvarado is a Salvadoran born community organizer, immigrant workers’ rights activist, & co-executive director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, an organization that advocates for the advancement of rights for migrant workers, specifically the migrant day laborer population in the United States.