On December 18, Republican governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that made it a state crime to enter Texas from Mexico without government permission. Abbott also signed an appropriation of $1.54 billion to construct more steel border wall.
Abbott’s law allows state and local police to arrest people on suspicion of immigrating without permission, and it empowers local judges to order deportations from Texas to Mexico, threatening to imprison those who do not comply. Passed by the Republican legislative majority, the law is set to take effect in March, which means that Texas cops and judges could begin arresting and deporting immigrants in the midst of Trump’s 2024 presidential election campaign.
The U.S. legal status quo empowers the federal government — but not state governments — to police immigration restrictions. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court voided the “Show Me Your Papers Law” in Arizona, which criminalized living in that state after immigrating without permission and allowed state and local arrests.
Abbott has smeared immigrants by linking them to narco cartels and fentanyl overdoses, claiming that Democratic president Joe Biden is refusing to stop the flow of immigrants.
This legislation deepens earlier Abbott policies. In mid-2021, he deployed several thousand National Guard soldiers and state police to patrol the border, directing them to arrest crossers but under the pretext that they were “trespassing” against rural landowners. This added to harassment and violence from the federal Border Patrol. Federal and state forces both attack, threaten, and jail people, and push those crossing the border to do so in remote desert areas risking death.
Abbott also placed razor wire and floating barriers on the Rio Grande border. During a 2021 mass arrival of thousands of Haitian migrants who had traveled through Mexico and tried to cross the U.S. border, Abbott mobilized large numbers of state police to join the U.S. Border Patrol and help violently blockade the border, intimidating or grabbing and detaining those attempting to enter. The incident dramatically illustrated that Joe Biden at the federal level and Greg Abbott at the state level are both mistreating and abusing migrants from countries racked by poverty, violence, or political instability (often related to U.S. imperialism, as with Haiti, Central America, and Venezuela). At times, their actions have aligned or cooperated to a degree, even while Abbott and other Republicans verbally attack Biden as soft on “illegal” immigration.
Biden halted construction of the steel border wall after taking office, but in October 2023, via his Department of Homeland Security, he greenlit building 20 more miles of it. He has supported deeper investment in drones, tall camera towers, and related surveillance technology to aid Border Patrol in capturing people. From early 2021 to early 2023, Biden expelled about 150,000 to 200,000 immigrants a month. He also reinstituted the notorious “Stay In Mexico” policies, which have left hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers stranded in Mexico while they wait, sometimes for many months or years, to have their petitions for asylum evaluated.
In 2022, Abbott attempted to make Biden look weak on immigration by arranging buses and offering transportation to Washington, DC, to some immigrants released by the federal Border Patrol in Texas. He sought to portray immigrants as a social burden and provoke Democratic Party politicians into agreeing with him. After Abbott sent 6,000 migrants to Washington, Democratic mayor Muriel Bowser requested the Department of Defense deploy National Guard troops there. When Abbott sent migrant buses to New York City, Democratic mayor Eric Adams shifted in one month from declaring, “We will always welcome newcomers with open arms,” to saying, “This issue will destroy New York City.”
Effects of Border Controls
All these attacks on immigrants are a farce. Right-wingers use the term “illegal” immigration to criminalize people who come into the U.S. without government approval. Liberal politicians may politely use the words “undocumented” immigrants, but they also support restrictive immigration policies that make it incredibly difficult for these immigrants to get legal status, jobs, housing, and everyday services, leaving many in a costly state of precarity.
We know immigrant workers, mostly from the poorest countries of Latin America, do grinding work for long hours and low wages, often under dangerous conditions: house framing, roofing, drywall, painting, dairy, vegetable, meat and other food processing, cleaning, less desirable factory jobs, etc. People without “papers” do a significant portion of the “essential jobs” that keep our country running, making up 5 to 10 percent of the national workforce.
Capitalist politicians claim that these people are stealing jobs from real “Americans,” yet our country could not run without immigrant workers. Such claims attempt to divide working people with nationalism. And they maintain the unjust system that allows hyperexploitation of millions of immigrant workers in the United States and hundreds of millions of foreign workers within the poorer countries of the world. From the point of view of imperialist capital, borders are necessary to maintain the world division of labor and the availability of cheap labor. Factory wages in El Salvador, Pakistan, or Indonesia could not remain at a few dollars a day if the working classes of these countries could move freely back and forth to and from wealthier nations. Strong corporations move money and operations around the world at will, getting high prices for goods and paying low prices to the people who make them.
People who can immigrate from poor to rich countries, without visas, despite the police system, often risking their lives, are forced to live without normal rights. They are a segregated sector of cheap labor within the U.S., Europe, etc. Not only can undocumented immigrant workers be paid less than “American” workers for the same work, they can be forced to work overtime without overtime pay, suffer through dangerous or dirty workplaces, accept “bossing around,” live without paid time off and benefits, send their children to work, and so on, because the law restricts their options. In the U.S., access to jobs is largely controlled by the I-9 form, which demands a Social Security number. In practice, this paperwork is directly in the hands of employers.
“American” workers are encouraged to blame these immigrants for poverty, crime, social dysfunction, our struggles to find good jobs, and low wages. But all the effects of cheap labor, including competition, lowering of wages, and harsh working conditions (caused by the ability of employers to choose between “illegal” and “legal” labor), would be eliminated if everyone who migrated was free to live and work without restrictions.
The capitalist system benefits economically and politically from a complex ladder of many rungs of inequality. As Marx and Engels wrote in their Manifesto: “The working people have no country.” Revolutionary Marxists have always demanded open borders with equal rights for “foreigners” everywhere, especially people born in weaker nations who migrate to stronger ones. When Lenin spent the first half of World War I in Switzerland, he demanded that the Swiss socialist party support automatic naturalization of “every foreigner … after three months residence in the country.” He also wrote to a U.S. Left group that white socialists, “in favor of restrictions of the immigration of Chinese and Japanese workers … [or] any restrictions of immigration … are in reality jingoes.”
We oppose a system that treats people as superior and inferior based on place of birth and nationality of parents, in a world of extreme inequality between different groups of nations. We reject the idea that workers are born onto the same team as the capitalists, the rich, of the country we come from. “Foreign” workers are our siblings. We can’t build working-class power without joining with them for freedom.
This is why all working people should reject Greg Abbott’s repressive anti-immigrant law and support open borders and working-class international solidarity.