Immigration Policy LBJ School Politics and Governance

SB 4 and the Failure of Stability Operations in Texas

Photo shows the Perkowti Valley near FOB Tillman in Paktika, Afghanistan, taken by author

The guard drops Tim and Luis off ten minutes late for GED math prep at the Travis County Jail. Shuffling to our shared circular work table, they apologize for their tardiness. We dive into simple interest calculations. Tim’s got it down, but Luis struggles with mathematical logic. He stares at the paper and copies my every word. “So you give the bank $500, and that’s your principal” I say. I ask him what the principal is. He’s silent. Tim elbows Luis, and tells him how tough math can be, but encourages him: “You gotta get it done, so you can be something big.”

At age 17, both are in jail waiting for their court appearances. Tim was charged with aggravated assault, and Luis stole a t-shirt at Macy’s. Neither are convicted, but their court dates have been delayed more than five times each, keeping them locked up for 48 weeks. Before the arrest, Tim was enrolled in Goodwill’s Excel Program, only a month from graduation. Luis worked construction during the week with his uncle’s company in South Austin and washed cars on the weekends. Both are in the US illegally. Tim’s mom crossed through Big Bend in 2002 carrying him in a backpack open just enough for him to breathe. He never got his papers and said he’d never heard of Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. Luis crossed through Arizona with two cousins in 2012 and started working immediately: painting houses, pouring concrete, cleaning portable toilets. Today, however, they are in detention facilities.

Around the same time Luis entered this country, I was working as a platoon leader for the US Army in Giro, Afghanistan establishing security in a small village on the eastern border with Pakistan. The US Army’s doctrinal framework for stability operations includes the establishment of a safe and secure living environment, enforcement of the rule of law, and administration of activities aimed to improve the community’s well-being. Initially the target of Taliban attacks, nightly raids by mafia-like drug lords, and acts of violence against the Afghan National Army and Border Police, our town gradually became more peaceful. Within two months, local elders established lines of communication with national leadership and logistical support networks with adjacent villages. Most importantly, they created a criminal justice reentry program in which individuals charged with social crimes would repay their community through acts of service such as dishwashing, agricultural labor, and qalat (home) repair. Upon completion of the program, individuals regained access to their kinship groups.

Undocumented immigrants have been targeted by law enforcement for years, though they saw recent relief from Travis County’s Sherriff Sally Hernandez. Hernandez directed her department not to comply with ICE detainer requests except those specifically targeting immigrants charged with murder, human trafficking, and aggravated sexual assault. Despite these policies, undocumented immigrants are usually turned over to federal officials if their fingerprints reveal any prior criminal record. Tim and Luis “popped hot” on Travis County’s biometrics database. Police voluntarily sent their information to ICE, which led to their subsequent long-term imprisonment in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Facility and South Texas Detention Complex respectively.

This level of cooperation of local law enforcement with federal detention practices makes strong-arm anti-immigrant legislation like Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) superfluous, especially when you consider that Mayor Steve Adler recently received indirect confirmation from United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Austin’s policies are not in violation of federal immigration law (Section 8 USC 1373).

But Texas is mad at Austin for policies, like those implemented by Hernandez, that seem “soft” on undocumented immigrants. The result of this anger is SB 4 of the 85th Texas Legislative Session, which contains four distinct components. First, localities not complying with optional ICE detainers will be targeted for state funding cuts. Second, entities found to be sheltering illegal immigrants will be fined $1,000 for the first day and up to $25,000 each subsequent day, although churches and mental health facilities are excluded. The third component slaps noncompliant police leadership with a Class A misdemeanor. This will negate a lifetime of service, leaving convicted officers jobless and without proper retirement benefits. Finally, patrol personnel are now authorized to ask about immigration status, mimicking Arizona’s “Show Me Your Papers” Bill (AZ SB 1070).

My friends Tim and Luis made bad decisions. At age 17, their inability to abide by the law resulted in a Class A and Class B misdemeanor respectively. But by relinquishing them to federal authorities, the consequences of those bad decisions are felt by their entire community. Incarcerated Hispanic youth speak loudly against real and perceived abuses of police authority via social media, relating tales of injustice and abuse that align with the narrative of poverty and self-preserving detachment. Such misrepresentation will create more unrest. The heavy hand of the law will in fact exacerbate tensions, and make it harder for the police to do their job.

Villages in Central Asia can instate effective re-entry and anti-recidivism measures, but Texans seem unable to trust their own neighbors, much less undocumented immigrants. The immigrant community is even less secure, and believes Texas does not care about its wellbeing. SB 4 is a direct refutation of the entire framework by which our nation’s defense establishment achieves success and ultimately wins wars. In stability operations, Texas fails.

Edited by: Sarah Pollock

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