by Olivia Rosane
Affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union based in the 25 states whose Republican governors have backed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a border standoff with the federal government, published an open letter Feb. 1 opposing what they called Abbott’s “violent border enforcement regime” and “cruel and misguided escalation.”
The letter comes one week after every Republican governor except for Vermont’s Phil Scott signed on to a statement supporting Abbott in his defiance of an order from the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas allow the federal government to remove razor wire the state has placed along stretches of the U.S. border with Mexico.
It also comes the same day that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis upped the escalation by promising to send members of his newly formed Florida State Guard to the Texas border.
“Our first message is simple: Not in our name,” the ACLU affiliates wrote. “While the governors of our respective states throw their support behind Gov. Abbott and his extreme and hateful policies, we know that this is not what our communities stand for.”
In the letter, the affiliates noted that the ACLU of Texas has long warned about Abbott’s policies, in particular Operation Lone Star, a program he launched in 2021 to deter people from crossing the border into Texas. Rights groups have sounded the alarm about the state’s lethal tactics, including the installation of razor wire and buoys, refusing migrants water in extreme heat, and pushing people back into the Rio Grande when they try to cross.
The current standoff between Texas and the federal government came after 33-year-old, Victerma de la Sancha Cerros, and her two children, 10-year-old, Yorlei Rubi, and eight-year-old, Jonathan Agustín Briones de la Sancha, drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas, where the state’s national guard had installed razor wire.
Initial reporting indicated that Texas officials had barred U.S. Border Patrol members from rescuing the migrants, but in fact, the three had already drowned before the federal government was informed and Texas officials blocked the federal government from assisting other migrants who were later rescued by Mexico, as Mother Jones explained.
A Department of Justice filing with the Supreme Court said that “it is impossible to say what might have happened if Border Patrol had had its former access to the area.”
“Cruelty is not a policy solution, nor is it leadership,” the ACLU affiliates wrote. “In their words and actions, the governors of our states seek to score political points by sowing death and suffering at the border.”
In addition to January’s drownings, the rights groups said they had observed how migrants had been injured by razor wire buoys placed in the river.
“None of these horrific abuses can ever be justified, and none of them stopped people from seeking safety in the U.S.,” the affiliates said. “We are appalled that our governors would support this type of violence against people seeking protection in the name of the ‘rule of law.’ Instead our governors should work together with communities and the federal government to invest in better solutions for the states receiving migrants and improve our immigration system.”
The affiliates noted that attempts to deter people from seeking asylum in the U.S. through penalizing enforcement mechanisms, such as former President Donald Trump’s child separation policy or the Title 42 program expediting removals to Mexico, were not actually effective.
Instead, the groups called for more funding for the asylum processing and court systems to reduce lines at the border, as well as more investment in communities that receive migrants, more legal migration opportunities, and increased work permits.
“Every state in the U.S. is not, as these governors claim, a ‘border state.’ But every state is an American state, and as such we have a responsibility to treat our neighbors with dignity and respect, in keeping with our laws and morals,” the affiliates concluded. “We reject Gov. Abbott and his enablers’ actions at the border in the severest possible terms. Immigrants make our country stronger. Cruelty at the border is a sign of our failure to live up to our own values.”
The letter came the day after Human Rights Watch also criticized Texas’ border policies and said that the ramping up of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star rhetoric was putting both migrants and border residents at risk. The group said that there was no evidence that the program actually decreased migration, but it had violated the human rights of both U.S. citizens and migrants, infringed on aid groups’ freedom of association and assembly, and increased injuries and deaths.
“Operation Lone Star has ballooned into a nearly $12 billion multilayered state government program of unnecessarily harsh laws,” HRW consultant in Texas Bob Libal said in a statement. “Make no mistake: Operation Lone Star risks lives and recklessly squanders public resources.”