This week, Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott announced a plan to spend $300 million militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border. His plan for a “continuous surge” over the course of two years would attempt to create a “permanent shield” at the South Texas border.
In a speech Tuesday describing the plan, Abbott cited a Mexican drug cartel bribery scandal that tried to ensnare local officials. Abbott used this example to warn against “third-world” corruption that could destroy Texas society. “This creeping corruption resembles third-world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities,” he said, according to the Texas Tribune.
Abbott is using these concerns and a claim of insufficient border security to justify spending the bulk of a $300 million security plan on new “border patrol” vehicles, boats, an airplane, and 1,000 new boots on the ground. A much smaller portion of funds would be directed to crime-fighting initiatives.
Immigration enforcement falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. While states cooperate and assist border agents, an effort of this size has the potential of interfering with the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement. Although Abbott’s campaign promise is a long way from enacting legislation or a budget, it could be unconstitutional depending on how it is carried out.
“If the Texas policy is seen as interfering with federal immigration law, it could be challenged under the Supremacy Clause and the courts could determine that this is unconstitutional under the preemption doctrine,” immigration law expert Margaret Hu told ThinkProgress. “Recently, in 2012, in Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down three out of four provisions of a state immigration law, Arizona’s SB (Senate Bill) 1070, on federal preemption grounds.”
“In addition, if the Texas border security plan is seen as interfering with the federal government’s foreign policy and national security policy, and other sovereignty interests, it could also be construed as unconstitutional,” said Hu, a professor at Washington and Lee School of Law.
Beyond concerns of constitutionality, there is little evidence that throwing more resources at border militarization would have any effect. There are already 18,500 Border Patrol agents patroling every mile of the border every day, and most of the border meets the Homeland Security’s highest standards of security. At the same time, arrests of migrants have fallen to their lowest level in decades and net undocumented immigration is at, or below, zero.
Many Republicans have hyped security concerns at a time the border is more secure than ever before. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), for instance, warned during the Senate debate on an immigration bill that the French were illegally crossing the South Texas border.