The New New Colossus: An Examination of Migration in Texas, Operation Lone Star and SB4

by Peter Xaiver Rossetti

Migration has always been a touchy subject in the modern political history of the Western world. Whether it is refugees in Europe or international students in Canada, political tensions skyrocket whenever public and government attention is placed on immigration. And nowhere is this currently more true than in the United States of America. As of the time of writing, the Texas state government, the US federal government and the Mexican government are in a Mexican standoff (no pun intended) over the state of migrants in Texas. Yet another case of political tensions heating past the boiling point when immigration is involved. Though, in order to understand why that is in this specific case, a step back is needed and the whole story needs to be told. And it starts with Texas, the Rio Grande Valley and barbed wire.

Back in 2021, Texas State Governor Greg Abbott announced his government’s new policy that would see the state crackdown on illegal immigration. The plan is called Operation Lone Star and it has turned the Rio Grande Valley into a war zone. Back in the summer of 2023, under the initiative of Operation Lone Star, Texas state authorities implemented razor sharp barbed-wire and “walls” built of old shipping containers to prevent any potential asylum seekers wishing to cross through the valley from Mexico to Texas from doing so (Gonzalez, 2023). In addition, Texas has also dispatched its own border task force composed of garrisoned troops, helicopters, air boats, and patrol trucks (Gonzalez, 2023). In the Rio Grande itself, the state has placed a roughly 1,000 foot-long string of buoys with nets and “saw-like blades” attached to the bottom to deter migrants from crossing where the river is at its lowest (Gonzalez, 2023). All of this has successfully made the Rio Grande Valley a very inhospitable landscape to those trying to cross into the US.

Yet, just because Texas is taking all of these measures, it does not mean that desperate migrants will not still try to cross into the US. Terribly, but predictably, these measures had resulted in the deaths of 3 migrants, 2 children and a woman, as they tried to cross in January of 2024 (The Associated Press, 2024). These deaths, however, seemed to have acted as the catalyst of public outrage against Operation Lone Star, which, in turn, finally brought real attention to the situation in Texas from the Biden administration. Washington was quick to point out that, in the US government system, immigration is a responsibility solely held by the federal government (The Associated Press, 2024). Meaning that Texas has no real legal argument to back up what it has been doing.

Nevertheless, this legal reality has not stopped Texas from drafting and attempting to implement its own state law that strictly deals with immigration. The law is known as Senate Bill 4, or SB4 for short, and it was passed by the Texas legislature and signed by Governor Abbott last year (Sheridan, 2024). However, due to the Biden administration claiming that it oversteps legal boundaries between state and federal power, the law has remained unenforced for now as it is deliberated over by the US court system and legal community (Sheridan, 2024). But what is SB4? Put simply, it would allow local Texan authorities, such as police officers and other state officials, to detain and deport migrants suspected to be illegally residing in the state – a responsibility usually held by federal authorities (Sheridan, 2024). Although no one, not even the local Texan authorities it would give power to, knows really how it will work if put into effect, the results of an effective SB4 are already clear. It is easy to deduce that it would result in a very disorganized and messy witch-hunt that would result in thousands of lives being destroyed.

The lives of these people have been seemingly overlooked by both state and federal governments in their fight over legality, state rights and federal responsibilities. It seems that all politically-charged decisions and discussions surrounding immigration, all over the West, forget (or actively ignore) the fact that these “illegal aliens” are people too. This dehumanization only acts to perpetuate this harmful outlook, which regulates the well-being of migrants as an afterthought, even further. However, not all hope is lost, for within this chaos there seems to be at least one figure which stands with the migrant community and that is Mexico.

Mexico, which has been a key US ally when it comes to handling immigration and border crossings, has placed its foot down. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has publicly denounced SB4 and has gone on record stating that Mexico will resist any deportation attempts from Texan authorities (Sheridan, 2024). In the eyes of the Mexican government, the treatment of migrants in Texas has been inhumane, and, as a result, the country will stiffen its political poster and will not cooperate with the SB4 (Sheridan, 2024). The hope is that without anywhere to deport these migrants to, Texas will come to an agreement with both the federal and Mexican government that satisfies all parties. But until then, all three governments stand facing the others, in classic Mexican standoff fashion, just waiting for something to happen.

Mexico’s position in this politically red-hot situation reminds us all that SB4 and Operation Lone Star is not just about some arbitrary legalities and a division of powers but rather it is about people’s lives. No matter one’s own personal opinion on the legal-ness of the case that surrounds this current issue, the fact is that, no matter the outcome, thousands of human lives will change. The US is a country built on the idea that anyone, no matter their country of origin, can make it if they try. And nowhere is this better represented than in the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus which planted the words,“give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” deep into the American psyche and on the Statue of Liberty itself – the biggest beacon of American identity. But today that identity hangs in the balance. For if the US decides to turn its back on those reaching its lands for a better life now, did it ever really mean those words in the first place?

Works Cited

Gonzalez, M. (2023). Deadly buoys, razor wires, armed guards: Greg Abbott is fixated on keeping migrants out. The Guardian. sylum-seekers-risk

Sheridan, M. (2024). Mexico vows to fight effort by Texas to deport migrants under S.B.$

The Associated Press. (2024). White House, Texas exchange accusations, blame after drowning deaths of 3 migrants. CBC/Radio-Canada.

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