The U.S. Constitution is under attack. Christo-fascists are trying to turn a secular document into a religious proclamation. They want their Jesus back in public schools, prayer before classes, and the Ten Commandments plastered on all four walls with End Times nonsense whispered into the ear of every student in the land. Politicians are finding methods like school vouchers to get tax money into church coffers and drive development of Christian schools, diminishing the viability of public education, and the banning of books they find offensive. Numerous guaranteed rights in the founding document are being quickly abandoned for purposes of political expediency.
And no place is working harder to undo the law than Texas.
The latest assault is on due process. The Texas legislature is giving law enforcement everywhere in the state the authority to arrest undocumented immigrants and return them to a border port of entry for deportation. First, though, they have to be reduced to custody, fingerprinted, photographed, a record created, and sometimes a hearing before a magistrate. If they are apprehended a second time after crossing, charges of increasingly severe crimes will be rendered and they will face prison for a new category of a Texas felony. When the inevitable lawsuit arises and a local lawman or government is sued, they need not worry because Texas has them indemnified and they will not be held responsible for violating rights or doing other harms. Texas taxpayers will write checks to their lawyers and pay for any settlements.
The implications of this draconian nonsense are profound. Most significantly, every person wearing a badge becomes empowered to arrest anyone they see and who they think might be an illegal border crosser. Probable cause is not required. If you are walking down the street in Denton, Texas, wearing ragged clothes, hauling a modest backpack and happen to have brown skin, expect to be stopped and questioned. If your answers do not satisfy the law officer, you might be driven hundreds of miles to the border and ordered to get the hell out of Texas, and don’t come back, unless you want to end up in prison. You are guilty of nothing more than looking downtrodden.
Regardless of the fact that “profiling” has gotten more than one law enforcement agency in this country into legal trouble, Texas politicians are determined to proliferate the practice. The governor and his radical Right-of-Trump party are selling xenophobia to their political base, which means the Constitution has no force of law in their ideology, unless it agrees with their belief system. Article IV, Section IV of the U.S. Constitution, however, provides the federal government with the authority to “protect each of them (states) from invasion,” and the Tenth Amendment authorizes creation of customs and border protection agencies. Texas, regardless, has taken up the job reserved for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and has deployed thousands of soldiers, state troopers, miles of concertina wire and floating barriers, in an attempt to supersede Washington’s jurisdiction. Motions regarding the use of wire and the barriers are presently before federal appeals courts.
Lawmakers have already passed a new funding measure that spends another $1.4 billion for more political performance money on a wall to make Gov. Greg Abbott look like a tough guy with his voters. The total includes an additional $40 million for the Department of Public Safety, which will be spent mostly paying overtime to the DPS troopers whose presence has turned border communities into an occupied war zone. By September, the state had already spent $4 billion on Operation Lone Star and there had been no appreciable reduction in immigration. Instead, border courts were backed up with misdemeanor cases and temporary prisons cells and local jails were overcrowded with people not being granted rights to representation or speedy adjudication.
The original author of the bill in the Texas Senate, Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Republican from Granbury, included language that kept custody of retained individuals with the Border Patrol and the agency would process them for deportation or asylum. The Lt. Gov., however, Dan Patrick, wanted Texas to have the authority to get rid of its unwanted immigrants. Birdwell took his name off the bill, claiming its strictures violated the Constitution. Patrick, who runs the upper chamber like a middle school bully dominates a playground, told Sen. Charles Perry, Republican of Lubbock, he wanted him to carry the new, more stringent and legally precarious law. Perry did not hesitate, regardless of the fact the language means Texas is trying to take over the responsibilities of the federal government.
Perry’s sentiments regarding immigrants are not subtle. Although there are more than five million immigrants in Texas, and a third of them are naturalized citizens, Perry sees something insidious about their presence. According to a study by FWD US, immigrants presently make up a quarter of the state’s work force and contribute $119 billion annually to the economic well being of Texas. An estimated 1.1 million of those workers, or about 8 percent of the state’s labor force, are undocumented. In Perry’s home district, Lubbock, where he took his degree from Texas Tech, 15 percent of those employed in that city’s education services are immigrants, as is 13 percent of manufacturing and 11 percent of construction. In fact, the basis for Lubbock’s mere existence, which was predominantly agriculture, leaned heavily on immigrants to grow and pick cotton, work farms and ranches, and then spend their earnings in the community.
Perry, though, can hardly be considered appreciative of their contributions. While sitting as chair of the Senate’s Committee on Water, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs, he let slip his obscene attitude by equating certain humans with animals. The committee was taking testimony from James Schwertner, head of the largest livestock-producing company in the U.S., and the discussion detoured into matters of immigration. I’d venture a guess that not a farm or ranch in Texas operates without undocumented workers. I cannot count the ones I have visited in the past forty years and not one of those operated without undocumented employees. Their labor often produces a profit margin, but Perry and Schwertner sought to denigrate and dismiss those contributions.
In a seven-hour hearing on May 11, 2022, Chairman Perry was unable to restrain his real emotions regarding immigrants. From his desk in the front of the committee room, he told Schwertner, “I’ve got a phrase I want to say so bad, I won’t throw you under the bus, though. But it was extremely good.”
“You might as well go ahead,” Schwertner said.
“I can do that?” Perry asked.
“You’re gonna have me wondering the whole time.”
“Well, it kind of addresses the immigration issue up in my area, I’m afraid. 'Shoot, shovel, and shut up',” Perry said.
“I wonder where you heard that,” Schwertner said.
“I don’t know where I heard that.”
The entirety of their exchange can be seen on the video archives of the Texas State Senate’s website at this location around 7 hours, 11 minutes, and 44 seconds.
Shoot, shovel, and shut up, also known colloquially as “the three Ss,” is an illegal approach to avoiding the Endangered Species Act (ESA). When an endangered animal or bird is discovered with a habitat on private property, federal law places constraints on how that land can be used. Instead of protecting a particular species, however, farmers and ranchers often feel compelled to kill the endangered animals or birds, even cutting down trees to get rid of habitat, which ends their obligations under the ESA. To avoid any evidence of crime, they adopt the approach of shoot, shovel, and shut up. Landowners argue the law has gone too far and protects obscure creatures like beetles, mice, and dragonflies while offering no real consideration to the value of private property and how it is used to create income.
The Lubbock senator, unsurprisingly, does not necessarily have a pure reputation as a paragon of virtue and has a finely tuned hypocritical intent. In 2015, Cynthia Lynn Ortiz filed a handwritten protective order against Perry. A dancer in a gentlemen’s club, Ms. Ortiz claimed Perry refused to leave her alone and stalked her after she met him in 2010 at a Republican Women’s gathering in Lubbock. Ortiz said the lawmaker or his friends had hacked her computer, vandalized her car, interfered with her work and relationships, and installed surveillance cameras in her home. Her request for a protective order from an Oklahoma court also said Perry had his associates follow her and that he had threatened her with an investigation by the DA in Lubbock, who was his friend.
These are interesting allegations against a man who appeared to memorialize his own sanctimony with legislation. Even as he is accused of frequenting strip clubs, Perry made sure his name was on “The Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act” in the state senate, which was designed to end the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Texas, a law that had not even notional value since marriage equality has already been legalized nationally. Perry began his senate career by claiming that the U.S. government is perpetuating “laws that lead citizens away from God” while also likening America’s spiritual battle to the “Holocaust.” Perhaps, he became aware of this by doing research at strip clubs? Ortiz, who was later arrested in Lubbock on “retaliation” charges for sending threatening emails to Perry, was either driven over the edge by his behavior or has a fine, fanciful imagination. Why she might make up stories about the senator is hard to suss out, if, in fact, that was the case.
Perry, during his committee hearing in 2022, may have just thought he was being clever with another good ol’ boy testifying before his ag committee and immigration popped up in their conversation. His dehumanizing remarks, though, are strikingly and politically ill-considered given the fact that one in six Texas residents is an immigrant and another one in six is the child of an immigrant. That a senator of the state of Texas can make a joke in a public hearing about shooting people and equating them with animals standing in the way of farm and ranch production is probably not that alarming given the attitudes expressed by his fellow legislators and the governor who has turned the border into a No Man’s Land of guns and divisiveness. Perry is guilty of the same kind of dangerous rhetoric as Trump, language that leads to violence and even death, for innocents who are only looking for work and better lives for their families.
And instead of hope, in Texas, they find too much hate.