Granderson: Texas' immigration law is understandable, terrible and doomed

EAGLE PASS, TEXAS - MARCH 18: In an aerial view, U.S. soldiers and law enforcement officers stand over a small group of immigrants who had crossed the Rio Grande into the United States on March 18, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. Texas National Guard troops have fortified the U.S.-Mexico border at Eagle Pass with vast amount of razor wire as part of Governor Greg Abbott's "Operation Lone Star" to deter migrants from crossing into Texas. The U.S. southwestern border with Mexico stretches nearly 2,000 miles, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and is marked by fences, deserts, mountains and the Rio Grande, which runs the entire length of Texas. Border and immigration issues have become dominant themes in the U.S. presidential election campaign. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
The governor has deployed the National Guard to Eagle Pass, Texas, and wants state authorities to arrest and deport migrants. (John Moore / Getty Images)

I wonder what the people will look like.

You know, the ones police in Texas are supposed to stop and question if they look as if they might be in the U.S. illegally.

Lone Star Republicans passed Senate Bill 4 last year, which would make illegally crossing the border into Texas from Mexico a misdemeanor with a punishment of up to six months in jail. Repeat offenders could face 20 years. The state could even try to deport people to Mexico. Courts have kept the law in limbo so far, but it’s still a looming threat.

Read more: Granderson: The border crisis is real. That's why Trump is blocking solutions

Legislating immigration and border issues is not the role of states — according to the Constitution — however Gov. Greg Abbott has a plausible justification for trying to usurp the federal government and tighten enforcement: Border towns in his state lack the resources to process the historic volume of migrants seeking refuge.

Consider this: San Antonio has processed more than 600,000 migrants since 2021. It is about 150 miles from Eagle Pass, the border town where Abbott sent the National Guard and placed barbed wire in the Rio Grande. For San Antonio, the second-largest city in Texas, the crisis is an issue. For Eagle Pass — a town of fewer than 30,000 that sits 2,000 feet from Mexico — it is the issue.

Read more: Granderson: Texans don't hate migrants. Why do they elect such a cruel governor?

But SB 4 is not a solution. Because at the heart of this bill are questions Texas can’t answer.

The Lone Star State is among our most diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. It is third in religious diversity, sixth in cultural diversity and ninth in socioeconomic diversity, according to one analysis of U.S. Census data. So … what exactly does a Texan look like? Talk like? How are police officers supposed to guess who isn’t supposed to be in Texas?

Read more: Opinion: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is defying a U.S. Supreme Court order. That's frightening

Hurricane Katrina forced some 250,000 evacuees to Houston, and more than 100,000 New Orleanians stayed. The fastest-growing city in the nation during the pandemic was San Antonio. Texas is home to the third-largest Asian American population in America.

And the premise of SB 4 is to have police officers stop, question and maybe even arrest people they suspect of illegally crossing the southern border.

So again I ask: What will the people look like?

Because despite the rash of “Don’t California my Texas” bumper stickers I’ve seen around the state, the facts of the census show the two states are pretty much the same in terms of diversity. Trying to determine who is not from Dallas based on looks is like trying to determine the same in Los Angeles. And we are to believe that with proper training local law enforcement will be able to enforce SB 4 without being racist.

Six white former police officers in Mississippi were just sentenced for torturing two Black men in January 2023. Not 1963 but 2023. The final sentencing for officers connected to George Floyd’s 2020 death had not happened yet when Mississippi’s “goon squad” beat, tortured and sexually assaulted the two Black men.

James Baldwin questioned in 1968 why a Black man would have faith in “some idealism which you ensure me exists in America which I have never seen.” Why should anyone today think Texas’ ridiculous legislation would be enforced fairly?

This law would require state judges to order migrants to return to Mexico if convicted. Of course, not everyone who is in the U.S. illegally is from Mexico. The judge would drop the charges if the migrant goes back voluntarily, meaning the authors of the bill believe desperate people who risked their lives to come here would rather go back than enter our slow-moving, broken judicial system.

What a depressing thought. Either Texas lawmakers believe our criminal justice system is even worse than it is, or they are clueless about the desperate poverty and violence driving people north from Latin America. Either way … the logic behind SB 4 is unmoored from reality.

Here’s the reality: The immigration system is broken. Migration is a crisis. Asking Texas officers to enforce SB 4 fairly on the streets or Texas judges to apply it justly in court is not only racist and unconstitutional. It’s also impossible.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.