Some have asserted, straight-faced, that President Trump is simply continuing Mr. Obama’s policies — arrests are up but deportations are down under the 45th president — but it sure doesn’t feel like it in Texas. Mr. Trump’s orders and rhetoric — “We’re going to build the wall, O.K.?” — as well as those added by our so-called leaders in Austin, have created a climate of fear that stands in contrast to Texans’ (occasionally self-serving) idea of ourselves as welcoming folks.
You don’t have to do much research to discover that Mr. Trump’s immigration policies have created chaos. Essentially, any undocumented immigrant with a misdemeanor can be thrown out of the United States — and not having proper documentation is a misdemeanor.
The passage of Senate Bill 4 in the Texas Legislature has made things worse, because it threatens to punish cities that don’t comply with federal guidelines — it allows local police officers to ask about the immigration status of people they stop. (Several major cities in Texas have sued to stop S.B. 4.)
As a result, many undocumented Texans now spend their days planning for detention or deportation. They calculate the risks — working in a private home is safer than working on a construction site, for instance — and they carry notarized letters assigning care of their children to friends or relatives. People who have asked the United States government for asylum from gang-dominated Mexican cities now wear parolee-like ankle bracelets to monitor their whereabouts while they await hearings.
A decline in emergency room visits and calls to the police isn’t good news; people are just afraid to ask for help. A domestic abuser will threaten to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement if his spouse threatens to call the cops. A social worker at Las Americas, a public high school for immigrants in Houston, told me despair has set in. Instead of helping families cope with living in the nation’s fourth-largest city, she helps them plan for “when you are deported how can you stay alive the longest.” The students tell her: “Nobody wants me. I have no home.”
They are not wrong; the point of the federal and state legislation is to make Texas so uncomfortable for the undocumented that they move on. I suppose this makes sense if, say, you are constantly faced with competition from the far right, which every Republican, including Gov. Greg Abbott, is. Or if you have seen the growing Latino majority in Texas and know that it isn’t securely nestled in the Republican fold.
But it doesn’t make sense if you are looking at a state whose work force was shrinking even before the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. The people who came to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina aren’t feeling the love here. Why should they?
“There are 47 other states that would love to see Texans fall on their butts,” Stan Marek, who has been in construction for years here, told me. Unless we have fair and sane immigration reform, like the “ID and Tax” plan many business leaders here support because it offers fair wages and work-visa status, our immigrants will vote with their feet, and businesses will follow.
That’s the price for trading a welcome mat for an ankle bracelet.