Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


Immigration is not a crisis—but the political, economic, and environmental factors that push people out of their homes are. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

The War on Immigrants Is a War on All Poor and Low-Income Workers

If low-income voters stick together, they can stop politicians from turning a humanitarian crisis into political theater.

Shailly Gupta Barnes

 by OtherWords

In states across the country, cynical politicians are turning a humanitarian crisis into political theater.

New Hampshire Governor John Sununu recently announced that he was deploying the state National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, joining around two-dozen mostly GOP-led states. Meanwhile Florida, Texas, and Arizona have been busing migrants to blue states and cities, often under fraudulent circumstances.

If poor and low-income Black, white, and Hispanic Texans turn out and stand together, they could change the outcome of Texas's gubernatorial race.

Immigration is not a crisis—but the political, economic, and environmental factors that push people out of their homes are. So is the inhumane treatment these displaced people receive.

Republicans are most brazenly exploiting these conditions, but its origins cross party lines.

When President Clinton enacted the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, he made more people eligible for deportation and made it easier to deport them. This drove up the undocumented population by making it riskier to seek documentation. And it laid the groundwork for a massive infrastructure to detain people.

Every administration since has expanded that infrastructure.

Under President George W. Bush, immigration enforcement moved to the new Department of Homeland Security, transforming a justice and labor issue into one of national security. Deportations started climbing, reaching more than 5 million under President Obama, despite his introduction of DACA to protect undocumented children.

President Trump escalated this trend, spreading dangerous lies about immigrants as violent criminals and invoking emergency powers to fund a southern border wall. Although President Biden reversed that move, our immigration system has not fundamentally changed.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants live under constant surveillance, and nearly 60,000 were deported in 2021. Last year alone, 250,000 people were detained in unsafe and overcrowded immigration detention facilities where over 200 have died, including children. Every year, hundreds more die along the border itself.

Texas is a flashpoint in this crisis.

In May 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbot issued a disaster declaration giving himself expanded powers and funding to crack down on migrants. Under "Operation Lone Star," or OLS, he deployed thousands of state troopers and national guard troops to the border to arrest and detain migrating children, families, and refugees.

According to Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights, OLS has not stemmed immigration flows. It's simply redirected them to more dangerous and isolated areas.  It's also stoking antagonism against people crossing the border. In September, two men shot at a group of migrants, killing a man and wounding a woman.

I recently joined a gathering in Texas convened by RITA, a statewide alliance to reform immigration in Texas. They said it was no accident that the crackdown comes despite a host of more pressing emergencies in the state, from widespread poverty to the large number of Texans without health care.

They also described OLS as a massive expansion of Texas' carceral system. Counties are using OLS funds to build new booking facilities, expand prison and jail capacity, acquire weapons and surveillance technology, and militarize public schools, they said. This expansion of militarized law enforcement impacts the civil rights of all Texans.

All told, OLS hurts migrants, poor people, and low-income people of every background. But for Texans, ending it could be as simple as turning out in the next election. There are 7.1 million eligible poor and low-income voters in Texas. That includes 2.4 million Hispanic people, many of them potential targets of Abbott's crackdown.

They will need to overcome rampant voter suppression. But as Fernando says, "if border communities voted by just a few percentage points more, they could change everything."

If poor and low-income Black, white, and Hispanic Texans turn out and stand together, they could change the outcome of Texas's gubernatorial race. And from there, they could shift the entire political terrain—in Texas and every other state that's playing politics with people's lives.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Supply Chains Woes Didn't Slow Down Global Arms Sales, Analysis Shows

Responding to the report, the U.S.-based group Win Without War said that "our economy prioritizes profits over people, leading to unnecessary violence and death. It makes us less safe."

Brett Wilkins ·

South Korean Truckers Firm in Demand for Fair Pay Despite President's Order to End Strike

"Part of why internationalism is so essential is because of how many international labor struggles can be used to demonstrate to U.S. workers what type of power we have to shut things down," said one labor advocate on the heels of a similar U.S. rail dispute.

Julia Conley ·

Groups Warn Pelosi, Schumer Against Allowing Manchin 'Dirty Deal' in Pentagon Spending Bill

"This obvious fossil fuel giveaway would devastate communities and set back efforts to avoid a climate catastrophe," said one campaigner.

Jon Queally ·

'Intentional Vandalism' Leaves Thousands Without Power in North Carolina

One right-wing extremist implied that multiple electrical substations were targeted to disrupt a drag show in Moore County. Local law enforcement authorities and the FBI are investigating.

Kenny Stancil ·

GOP Silence on Trump's Call to Axe Constitution Reveals 'Full Embrace of Fascism': House Dem

"Last week the leader of the Republican Party had dinner with a Nazi leader and a man who called Adolf Hitler 'great,'" said Rep. Bill Pascrell. "Yesterday Trump called for throwing out the Constitution and making himself dictator."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo