In September 2021, as many Haitian migrants crossed into the Texas town of Del Rio, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick claimed that Democrats were permitting migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border to effectuate a “silent revolution.” The purpose, Patrick claimed, was to cement Democratic voting power long-term. Regarding immigrants, Patrick argued, “At least in 18 years even if they all don’t become citizens before then and can vote, in 18 years if every one of them has two or three children, you’re talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters and they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they’re going to vote for?” Patrick argued President Biden’s and Democrats’ “silent revolution” “is trying to take over our country without firing a shot.”
As the Texas Tribune observed at the time, Patrick was parroting the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which claims that liberal elites are bringing nonwhite immigrants into the United States to “replace” the country’s white and native-born population, including in voting. This conspiracy theory fueled the 2019 El Paso mass shooting by a white supremacist who targeted Latinos and killed 23 people. That shooter wrote that his attack was due to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” and denounced Latino political power in the state—in broad strokes, a version of the arguments that Patrick made two years later.
Fast forward to the present. Texas is on the cusp of passing possibly the most extreme anti-immigrant bill in decades. HB4 would create a state crime of improper entry from a foreign country by a noncitizen: essentially a state-law copy of the federal improper-entry criminal prohibition. Further, HB4 would permit law enforcement to “in lieu of arrest, remove a person” from the United States by “transporting the person to a port of entry” and “ordering the person to return to the foreign nation from which the person entered or attempted to enter.” The bill provides for no due process before such summary expulsion, and it does not provide any limit based on length of time a person has resided in the United States or proximity to the border. An undocumented individual who crossed the border decades ago, or someone who had just crossed fleeing persecution in Mexico, would be at risk of summary expulsion by a state or local law enforcement officer. Refusal to comply would be a second-degree felony. The bill author admitted under questioning that family separation due to HB4 is possible. HB4 is extreme anti-immigrant state legislation, and an extraordinary state arrogation of the exclusively federal power to regulate entry to and exit from the United States.
Not coincidentally, Texas politics is also experiencing an earthquake from the revelation that white supremacist and neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes met with a major conservative operative for six and a half hours. Fuentes regularly praises Hitler and has expressed despicable views on the Holocaust, among other antisemitic, white supremacist, and misogynistic statements. He was in the office for 45 minutes at the same time as Texas Republican Party chair Matt Rinaldi, who has disclaimed any meeting and disavowed Fuentes. Initially somewhat unnoticed amid the maelstrom: the man who drove Fuentes to the meeting is the president of Texans for Strong Borders (TFSB), an anti-immigrant advocacy group. TFSB partnered with Rinaldi and other conservative groups just days prior to the meeting, to call for legislation that would allow Texas law enforcement to “return any illegal aliens who make it through back to Mexico”—in other words, to do exactly what HB4 does.
The years-long influence of extremist, white supremacist ideas on policy toward the border and immigrants in the second-largest state in the country, and the state with the longest border with Mexico, has gone overlooked. Texas’ ever-more xenophobic and harsh policies toward migrants are not occurring in a vacuum. Rather, they are fueled by white supremacist ideology and rhetoric, traceable to political actors in the state. It shouldn’t have taken an avowed supporter of Hitler meeting with a prominent Texas operative to alert Texans, and the country, to the ways hate is driving the adoption of xenophobic policies that are impacting immigrants and Black and brown residents of the state and rippling throughout the country.
Kinney County: White Supremacist Rhetoric and Associations Influencing Core Texas Border Policies
White supremacist influence has played a major role in Texas’ state-level anti-immigrant initiatives since the start of the Biden administration. In May 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a “disaster” based on migration and the federal government’s purported lack of immigration enforcement. This action obviously mirrored former President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to build a border wall. The first such disaster declaration in the state of Texas, though, came not from Abbott but from the county executive in Kinney County.
Kinney County is a small border county with a population of just over 3,000 that has played an outsized role in Texas’ anti-immigrant actions. Simply put, Kinney County has preceded the state and appears to have influenced state policy on many of Texas’ most extreme anti-immigrant initiatives. Kinney County was first to promulgate a disaster declaration based on migration, a month before Abbott. In May 2021, Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe publicly discussed working with County Attorney Brent Smith “to start prosecuting these people that are trespassing on y’all’s property.” Coe explained: “It’s going to be something new. . . . They may be released after time served, but it will give them a criminal record. So if they ever try to apply for something later on in their life, that will flag them.” In July 2021, Coe further stated that the county had “met with the Governor several times” and that he and Smith had “come up with a plan that we’ve been trying to implement . . . we formulated this back in April . . . anybody that we catch on private property, we will prosecute for criminal trespass.”
The migrant arrest program that Coe described in May and July 2021 is, essentially, the new migrant trespass arrest program adopted by the state of Texas in July 2021. Under the auspices of the Operation Lone Star border initiative, Abbott put in place what amounts to a parallel system of immigration enforcement predicated on criminal arrests for misdemeanor trespass–exactly what Coe said that he and Smith had hatched as a plan in Kinney County. In fact, the Office of the Governor stated that “the goal is . . . to make it less attractive to cross the border” and (erroneously) that the program “has the ability to impact your ability to get citizenship.” As Abbott has explained: “We are employing state law, as opposed to federal law, because when we make an arrest under federal law we typically have to turn people over to the federal authorities, and they just release them . . . . We are arresting people coming across the border illegally, and we are jailing them in jails in the state of Texas.” Thousands of migrants have now been arrested and held by the state of Texas on misdemeanor state trespass charges. The program is, essentially, an immigration enforcement system with a mustache, which appears to have originated with Kinney County officials.
Those same Kinney County officials have serious red flags for any involvement in border policy: they have used white supremacist rhetoric and have associations with vigilantes and anti-immigrant actors. For example, Coe appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast and espoused the great replacement conspiracy theory, saying that migration “is created by the cartels and, I would say, George Soros and crew to push these people in here to try to change the dynamics, the schematics of the United States.” Coe and his office have collaborated with Patriots for America, a vigilante group that has detained migrants for the sheriff’s office. Coe also told the Wall Street Journal about periodic meetings with the group’s leader.
The Kinney County attorney, like the sheriff, has a connection to vigilantes looking for migrants. The leader of the Patriot Boys vigilante group (a Proud Boys affiliate) was “patrolling a ranch” for migrants and was arrested at a ranch connected to Smith: it’s where Smith is registered to vote, and he’s signed authorization for law enforcement access for trespass arrests. Smith denies “any relationship with” the Patriot Boys leader, but Texas Monthly corresponded with a source in the Patriot Boys who claimed their leader had stayed on the ranch for three months after an introduction to Smith. The Patriot Boys leader was a fugitive from January 6 federal charges and was ultimately sentenced to 52 months in prison for assaulting Capitol officers. Smith has described immigration as “literally like an invasion, something you would normally think you would see on Red Dawn” that will cause the United States to “lose our country . . . It won’t look the same way.” Smith also shared a Facebook post calling on Texans to take up arms against Haitian migrants and another one calling a Border Patrol agent maneuvering a horse toward a Black migrant with raised reins “Del Rio’s newest hero.”
In addition to the disaster declaration and trespass scheme, Kinney County officials pushed Abbott to declare an invasion, holding a press conference at which they did so alongside officials from other counties and former Trump Department of Homeland Security officials Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan. They have also long sought the unilateral deportation power that HB4 would provide. As far back as April 2021, Smith suggested that Texas can deport people, citing as an example the Texas Rangers’ unilateral deportations of individuals to Mexico in 1915. This is an extremely troubling example in the context of South Texas: at that time, the Texas Rangers committed rampant civil rights abuses against people of Mexican descent in the borderlands, including torture and summary executions. In June 2022, Coe, a former Border Patrol officer, took deportation policy into his own hands, in a move that would now be written into state law under HB4. He drove four people he believed to be migrants from the scene of a car crash to a port of entry and dropped them off in the center of the international bridge.
Texans for Strong Borders: Escalating White Supremacist Rhetoric & Influence
Which brings us back to HB4 and Texans for Strong Borders. Getting a white supremacist, who has compared the Holocaust to baking cookies, in a meeting with a prominent Texas operative and in an office with the chair of the Texas Republican Party is, not surprisingly, just the tip of the iceberg. TFSB uses acolytes of Nick Fuentes as social media spokespeople: one has pro-Nazi social media, and one repeatedly refers to “white genocide.” A Fourth of July Facebook post is a call to violence, exhorting that readers “must follow in the footsteps” of “men willing to give up their lives” and that borders require “battles and bloodshed.” Another post shows a picture of primarily Black individuals and states, “This level of demographic change is unsustainable.” TFSB has, like Lt. Gov. Patrick, espoused the racist great replacement theory: the organization claimed, in response to a tweet about Latino voting power, “They are importing people by the hundreds of thousands to liquidate your voting power and transform Texas into a Marxist, third-world hellhole.” There is a litany of similar examples.
Troublingly, TFSB is a recent but not a fringe group in Texas politics. Just days before the Fuentes meeting, Texas GOP chair Rinaldi and conservative groups co-signed a letter led by TFSB laying out an anti-immigrant agenda for the special legislative session. The proposed agenda included, prominently, unilateral state removal of migrants to Mexico. The pending HB4 would do just that. TFSB and partners also requested “addressing” Colony Ridge, a development near Houston that has become the center of anti-immigrant conspiracy theories. TFSB was an early peddler of these conspiracy theories and has argued that state leaders should “wipe Colony Ridge off the map.” Colony Ridge duly appeared on the Texas legislature’s agenda.
This is not TFSB’s only link to mainstream Texas politics. The group’s leaders regularly speak to conservative groups throughout Texas and testify before the Texas legislature. In September, long after its white supremacist rhetoric was clear, TFSB joined former Trump administration officials Morgan (also linked to Kinney County, you’ll note), Tom Homan, and Rodney Scott; the Heritage Foundation; and other groups in a letter supporting tying continued funding of the federal government to border legislation. Former Republican candidate for Harris County executive, Alex Mealer, posted that it was “great seeing” her “friends” at TFSB alongside a picture of herself with the president of TFSB. Harris County is the most populous and one of the most diverse counties in Texas, with the third-largest immigrant population of any county in the country; Mealer lost her electoral bid by only two points. Just days ago, the TFSB executive director appeared on a podcast with a sitting state legislator in which the two discussed TFSB’s influence at the state legislature and the TFSB executive director claimed that migration, or “invasion,” is “an orchestrated scheme” by Democrats to take control of Texas in the Electoral College.
Extreme Texas Border Policies Motivated by White Supremacist Ideology Compel Federal Intervention
From Kinney County to Texans for Strong Borders, the significant evidence of white supremacist influence on Texas politics and Texas border policy is alarming. The pending HB4 bill would literally authorize unilateral removal to Mexico of individuals by state and local law enforcement without any process whatsoever. There is no age limit. There is no protection against return to danger. There is no process to ensure individuals are not racially profiled U.S. citizens or residents with status. Moreover, there is abundant evidence that that policy outcome is the fever dream—or, rather, the successfully executed plan—of adherents to the racist great replacement conspiracy theory. You don’t have to be staunchly in support of immigrants’ rights to recognize how deeply disturbing this policy outcome, which would upend the federal-state allocation of power in line with extreme racist beliefs, is. For those of us who believe in pluralistic democracy, this should be a five-alarm fire.
It might be tempting for non-Texans to brush this off as more extreme conservatism in an extreme state. But Texas is central to the United States–especially in border policy, given its geography and large immigrant population. Texas’ politicians are ambitious and have ready access to a sympathetic federal appellate court. Paxton has repeatedly said he wants a test case to overturn Arizona v. United States, the modern lodestar for federal-state allocation of immigration authority. HB4 could provide that. And crucially, the racist and xenophobic ideas infecting Texas politics risk spreading further throughout the country.
For years, civil rights advocates have called on the Biden administration to find that Texas’ Operation Lone Star violates federal civil rights protections. The administration has challenged two of Texas’s most egregious anti-immigrant steps: a ban on ground transportation of groups of migrants in the state, and a border buoy with serrated edges in the Rio Grande. It has not robustly defended immigrants’ rights or federal supremacy writ large against the ongoing state attack. Texas’ parallel immigration enforcement system has continued unhindered and even sometimes aided by Border Patrol. Time is running out: without reassertion of federal law and basic human values, Texas’ policies are only becoming more extreme. The federal government should step in, and ensure that there is no corner of this country where white supremacist ideology wins out over civil rights and the federal compact.