Dec 20, 2023

Texas makes illegal immigration a state crime.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaking at a conference in Arizona. Image: Gage Skidmore
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaking at a conference in Arizona. Image: Gage Skidmore

Plus, Tangle gets censored and the massive Trump story we'll be covering tomorrow.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Texas just passed a state law making illegal immigration a state crime. Plus, Tangle gets censored and the massive Trump story we'll be covering tomorrow.

The Trump story.

Yesterday, one of the biggest stories of the year broke when the Colorado State Supreme Court ruled that Donald Trump is ineligible for its 2024 ballot under the 14th Amendment. I know many of you want to immediately get some coverage on that story, but — as a practice, not a rule — we like to allow huge stories like this to breathe for a day before covering them. Almost always, this allows us to provide the most accurate and level-headed coverage, and it also gives the many opinion columnists and reporters we follow some more time to flesh out their own thoughts and reflections. So you can expect our coverage on that story tomorrow.

Last chance

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Quick hits.

  1. Google agreed to pay a $700 million settlement with state attorneys general and millions of customers who said its app store violated antitrust laws. (The settlement)
  2. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels said they would defy a U.S.-led naval mission and continue targeting Red Sea shipping off the coast of Yemen in support of Hamas. (The threat)
  3. The names of dozens of Jeffrey Epstein's associates could be made public next week after a federal judge ordered an array of court documents to be unsealed. (The order)
  4. Senate negotiators said they are unlikely to pass a bill that combines Ukraine aid with border security measures before the end of the year. (The negotiations)
  5. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Egypt for negotiations on a ceasefire in Gaza. (The trip)

Today's topic.

The Texas immigration law. This past Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed SB4, a state bill creating a process for state officials to deport migrants who have crossed the border without legal authorization. The law authorizes Texas law enforcement to stop, arrest, and jail migrants suspected of entering the country illegally. SB4 was passed by the legislature earlier this year and is set to take effect in March 2024, barring legal challenges. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state over the law, calling it unconstitutional because the federal government has sole authority over immigration. 

If enacted, the legislation would make illegally crossing the border a state misdemeanor and illegal re-entry a second-degree felony punishable with prison time ranging from 180 days to 20 years. It would also permit a Texas judge to order an undocumented person “to return to the foreign nation from which they entered,” according to the text of the bill.

Abbott has also signed two other immigration bills into law. SB3 allocates $1.54 billion of state money to continue construction of floating barriers in the Rio Grande River, which runs along the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border, while another bill — coincidentally also called SB4 — increases the minimum sentence for smuggling immigrants from two years to 10 years.

The legislation marks another step in the escalating tension over the border between Republican governors of border states and the Biden administration, which Texas Republicans say is not doing enough to secure the border. The bills come after consecutive years with more than 2 million migrants apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents along the Southern border, the highest levels on record. U.S. officials said there have been single days in December with over 10,000 crossings and, since August 2022, Texas has bussed over 65,000 migrants to Democrat-run cities all across the United States interior. 

Abbott, who was in the border town of Brownsville on Monday to sign the bills, said Texas needs to defend itself from drug cartels. “Biden’s deliberate inaction has left Texas to fend for itself,” Abbott said.

The Texas bills have been widely criticized by the left, with SB4 drawing comparisons to the 2010 Arizona law requiring suspected migrants to provide documentation on demand, which was struck down by the Supreme Court. 

"This is an extreme law that will make communities in Texas less safe. Generally speaking, the federal government — not individual states — is charged with determining how and when to remove noncitizens for violating immigration laws," White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of what the left and right are saying about the new legislation, and then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is opposed to the law and suggests it will allow for de facto racial profiling of 62 million people, most of whom are citizens.
  • Some say Abbott is using anti-immigrant rhetoric to justify upending a century and a half of precedent on immigration law.
  • Others say Texas is ignoring the lessons of failed immigration policy and is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

In The Houston Chronicle, Jeronimo Cortina and Samantha Chapa argued that the bill will “backfire” on Texas. 

“Though the Republican majority behind SB4 has argued it is not a ‘show me your papers’ law, in practice, officers must ask residents about their immigration status to determine whether they are living in the U.S. unlawfully. This means that peace officers may disproportionately target ordinary Americans based on the color of their skin and the presumption of their immigration status. Typically, Americans of color — especially Latinos — are profiled as immigrants,”  Cortina and Chapa said. 

“Legislators and constituents often support these restrictive state laws based on unfounded assumptions. The first of these myths is that immigration increases crime. Research on immigration and crime repeatedly refutes this point. In fact, some research reveals the opposite: immigration may, in fact, reduce crime by stimulating the local economy. The second popular myth is that migrants take jobs and depress wages for Americans. Decades of research shows that this is not the case.”

In The American Prospect, Gus Bova wrote about Texas “challenging 150 years of immigration law.”

“Texas’ top executive has used his enterprise to test the boundaries between state and federal authority and to try to free Texas from strictures imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Bova said. “Abbott has distorted the state’s criminal trespass statute to target unauthorized migrants; he’s declared an ‘invasion’ of Texas by Mexican cartels; he’s sent asylum-seekers by the busload to other American states; he’s empowered the Texas National Guard and state troopers to apprehend immigrants and return them to the U.S.-Mexico border; he’s built a wall; and he’s deployed dangerous river buoys in the Rio Grande.

“Now, with Senate Bill 4, the Texas Legislature has gifted Abbott the most extreme weapon in his anti-Federalist arsenal yet — one that could reshape immigration enforcement nationwide,” Bova added. “The U.S. federal government already maintains its own laws against illegal entry and reentry — statutes of racist origin that it enforces with discretion — but a state doing so would be an earthquake for the legal status quo, as would Texas effectively implementing its own deportation system.”

In The El Paso Times, Maria Teresa Kumar said “Texas is repeating [a] tragic anti-immigration mistake from 70 years ago.”

“With SB4 becoming law, the loss of life, destruction of families, and vilification of the Latino community will be an era-defining tragedy. Abbot is telling all other Texans that the largest demographic of Tejanos in the state should be suspected and othered. This is divide and conquer of the highest order, and we should all be appalled by it,” Kumar wrote.

“And it’s all a dress rehearsal for a nationwide policy if Trump wins back the presidency. His team has made clear their aspiration to turn America into a police state, where 62 million people – Latinos, the vast majority American citizens, who make up our country’s second-largest demographic group – are permanently suspect and under threat,” Kumar said. “SB4 may be the start of a nationwide trend, as Abbott, Trump, and MAGA Republicans seek to remake our nation and our Constitution in their image.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is mostly supportive of the law, arguing that federal inaction has forced border states to take matters into their own hands.
  • Some praise Abbott for taking a bold step to better secure his state’s border and criticize those who have challenged the policy.
  • Others worry that the law won’t be effective, suggesting the threat of arrest alone is not enough of a deterrent to migrants.

In Hot Air, Karen Townsend explained how the law will “empower” Texas to bolster its border security.

“The Mexican government rejected the legislation. Not that they have a say in Texas law, but, whatever. It’s to Mexico’s benefit for the border to be wide open,” Townsend wrote. “Something has to be done. Illegal immigrant crossings from Mexico are up by a third — there have been 167,000 stopped in December already. Texas Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar said it is time to ‘secure the border now.’ He is concerned about the closing of ports of entry and international bridges because it affects trade.”

“Send them back. Stop letting them just disappear into the interior of the country. Enforce the laws on the books. This is all basic border security. Immigration is in the top three issues for voters. As it is, Biden is losing every demographic. One thing he could do to stop the bleeding would be to close the border and be serious about it. He won’t but that should be his way forward.”

In RedState, Ward Clark criticized Mexico’s “challenge” to the new law.

“The Mexican leader is punching back, claiming that he will seek legal sanctions against Texas. None of this, of course, would be an issue if the Biden administration was actually enforcing immigration law,” Clark said. “Governor Abbott has remonstrated with President Biden on his issue in the past and is now taking matters into his own hands, which is perhaps understandable given the lack of federal action. But that isn't making Mexico's president any happier.”

“The fundamental problem here is one of incentives. It's in Mexico's interest to keep the flow of people moving north; their citizens in the United States, legally and illegally, remit around $60 billion a year to relatives in Mexico; this is a substantial income flow, a boost to Mexico's economy, and a benefit that keeps the ruling class in place,” Clark wrote. “This is what has led to the states taking action on their own.”

In The Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll argued “the new Texas immigration law won’t work.”

“Considering all the misery President Joe Biden’s border crisis has inflicted on communities throughout the state, including most painfully on border communities, Abbott’s effort is understandable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a prayer of actually solving the crisis,” Carroll said. “Abbott’s new law would empower Texas law enforcement to arrest each of these migrants as they are released by the Border Patrol. Which sounds great on paper, but then what are they supposed to do with them?”

“Texas has no way to force immigrants to go back to Mexico. Abbott would need to make an agreement with authorities in Mexico to accept custody of immigrants convicted of illegally crossing the border. This isn’t necessarily impossible, but Abbott has no such agreement now,” Carroll wrote. “The sad reality is migrants will keep crossing the southern border illegally as long as they are rewarded with access to the United States for doing so. Six months in a U.S. jail simply is not deterrent enough to keep migrants from crossing the border.”

My take.

  • SB4 is probably unconstitutional, but Texas had to act because Congress has shown that they won’t.
  • While it’s sensible to want to restrict illegal immigration, this bill is still pretty extreme and has some serious logistical problems.
  • There are already laws we could better enforce and, as I’ve said a million times, we need a larger immigration judicial system and more border enforcement.

For starters, this is what happens when Congress doesn't do anything.

We have now written six posts on the immigration crisis in 2023, and aside from Biden's attempt to launch the CBP One app to better regulate border crossings (which appears to have failed spectacularly, despite my misplaced optimism) we are approaching the new year with zero meaningful immigration reform passed by Congress. This is not new — our legislators have been incapable of enacting much-needed reform for about two decades now.

Somewhere between the policies Texan officials want and the policies the Biden administration wants should be the actual law. Despite the federal government's clear legal authority on this issue, I think it is only sensible that Texas work with the federal government on it. After all, about 65% of the southern border is Texas’s. Right now, Texas and the White House are fighting each other tooth and nail, not working together, and that is bad for everyone.

Of course, that doesn't mean this particular law is the answer either. The concerns about profiling and harassment of anyone who looks like an immigrant are justified, as we’ve seen laws like Arizona’s 2010 bill have that impact in the past. And much like that bill, there is a very good chance SB4 is simply ruled unconstitutional. 

And yet, there are some things I like: For starters, it actually amounts to doing something. The federal government’s posture here is basically that this is their job, but then they don’t accomplish anything meaningful. So Texas says, “ok, we’ll do something,” then the federal government steps in to say “no, that’s our job!” This is a real bill passed by lawmakers that underwent debate, changes, and a vote. Gov. Abbott has a right to stress-test the system and see how far he can change immigration law via state policy, and this bill exists in the vacuum created by Congress’s inaction and the White House’s ineffective leadership.

As the Dallas Morning News editorial board put it, "Judges shouldn’t be establishing our country’s immigration policy; that’s what lawmakers are for. But Congress is impotent and President Joe Biden’s efforts have been reactionary, not proactive, and have failed in leading the way."

Texas legislators actually altered the initial version, which allowed state and local police officers to order migrants back to the country they came from. That got changed to requiring a local judge to order a deportation. The bill was also updated to prohibit any arrests at schools, places of worship, or facilities in the state that provide services to people who are survivors of sexual assault. These were sensible changes for a bill that, even as passed, is one of the strictest immigration bills I’ve seen. 

SB4 also charges illegal entry as a misdemeanor, which implies a statute of limitations of two years. That indicates that it (hopefully) won't be used to target people who have been in the U.S. far longer than that, and actually focuses the state's resources on new arrivals.

But there are obvious problems, too — none bigger than the practical question of how Texas expects to actually remove migrants it arrests. Many commentators on the right pointed out that Mexico opposes this bill because illegal immigration is good for them, since many migrants send money back home to their families. That isn't the bill’s largest impracticality, though, and I doubt it is Mexico’s biggest concern.

The biggest problem is that many of the migrants who would be arrested and deported under this legislation are not Mexican. In September, Venezuelans made up the largest number of any nationality arriving in the U.S. illegally. And, according to the bill, those migrants are going to be sent to ports of entry with Mexico. So of course Mexico is going to oppose this bill: These migrants pass through Mexico to get to the U.S., and Mexico doesn't want to have to handle thousands of unauthorized migrants who aren’t even from there.

That, plus the lack of any real system for Texas state law enforcement to deport these migrants, makes the bill more aspirational than anything else — which is why Conn Carroll (under "What the right is saying") called it impractical and likely to be ineffective. 

It's also worth noting that, much like with gun control, we have laws on the books that could help solve the issues that we face if they were enforced properly. For instance, crossing the U.S. outside of an official port of entry is already a federal crime, but most illegal crossings are treated as civil cases in immigration court. And Texas troopers can already arrest migrant adults on trespassing charges, but they need the consent of private property owners to do so (SB4 eliminates the need for that consent).

As I've screamed into the void hundreds of times before, what we really need is a larger and more functional immigration system with more judges, more courts, and more lawyers to properly adjudicate asylum claims to process people arriving at our border. That, paired with increased border security to stop those trying to come illegally and a robust legal immigration system that can actually address all the people who want to be here, is the pie-in-the-sky solution. But it only feels unrealistic because our legislators are so incapable of producing comprehensive immigration reform, something dozens of other developed nations have done successfully.

In the meantime, if Congress continues to languish on this issue, it’s hard to blame states like Texas for pushing the limit of what they can do to reduce illegal immigration into their states.

Your questions, answered.

Q: What do you think about your post being taken down on Instagram?

— Sam from Clearwater, Florida

Tangle: For those who aren't following us on Instagram, go do that now. In case you missed it, last week we started rolling out 10 posts on Instagram that were pulled from my "10 thoughts on what is happening in Israel" piece. On Sunday evening, we posted #4 on Instagram as a standalone post — in which I made the argument about why I would not describe what is happening in Gaza as a "genocide." A few hours later, Instagram took the post down, and they’ve been throttling our Instagram reach since, a frightening outcome for an independent organization like ours. 

Social media is a different place than the Tangle comments section, so I expected the post to generate some blowback. Immediately, the angry comments started rolling in, people started "liking" those comments, and I watched as a typical social media mob formed. A lot of people restated my argument dishonestly, accused us of supporting genocide, or left accusatory personal comments like that I was a "closeted Zionist." Other comments simply stated “unfollowed,” and yes, a swath of people did unfollow.

It seems as though some people on social media who came across the post also reported it. I am honestly not sure on what grounds. Harassment, perhaps? Abusive language? I still don’t know. By midnight, the post had been removed.

This alone is a lesson about how our current information media ecosystem functions. As I explained in my original post, there is an actual academic and legal argument about the use of the word "genocide" to describe what is happening in Gaza. And as I also said in the post, I do not think having this argument is important or helpful, but I wrote about it because so many readers have insisted I call what is happening in Gaza a genocide. I tried to explain why I haven’t been doing that (though of course the situation can change, and as we covered yesterday, Israel’s current actions are certainly worthy of harsh rebuke). I also linked to a TIME Magazine article where you can read actual scholars on this issue sharing their various perspectives about it.

And yet, what I primarily said was that there is an actual debate among actual experts with actually varied opinions, the post still got removed. Practically speaking, the effect of that is that people who follow us or news about this conflict on Instagram will not see any perspectives on this topic that might challenge their own. Separate from whether you agree with my answer or not, I find this deeply disturbing — and a perfect illustration of why people need to seek out news that challenges them.

Another interesting thing happened, too: Shortly after the post got taken down, we alerted our followers that the post had been removed by Instagram. And then our inbox filled up with positive messages of support from dozens and dozens of people who said they really appreciated the post, whether they agreed with it or not. So many people privately expressed their gratitude for our work — though none of them said so publicly (nearly every single public comment on the post was negative and accusatory).

That is the nature of the brigade — an online click-mob.

Imagine being one of the angry followers who saw the comments, reported us, and then saw the post get taken down. Not only did they prevent others from engaging with my point of view, they left convinced nobody was crazy enough to agree with me — even though the reality is nobody was crazy enough to agree with me publicly, because they know the way people conduct themselves on social media.

The genocide argument aside, this is fundamentally why I believe outlets like Tangle are critical. People are living in bubbles — and not all by their choice. People choose who to follow, but angry mobs reporting posts like ours choose what they are not allowed to see. That social censorship effect is caused in part by other users (understandably) self-censoring out of fear their opinions might get them in trouble. 

This creates echo-chambers, or media bubbles, that we all desperately need to get out of.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

2023 was the least productive year for Congress in decades, according to a new analysis, putting the 118th Congress on track to be the least productive group since congressional productivity data was first tracked in 1951. Partisan divides and the Republican infighting over the House Speakership ground normal legislative business to a halt, resulting in just 20 bills that have been passed by both chambers and signed into law. That is well below the three previous most unproductive first years. The 104th, 112th, and 113th Congress all passed between 70 and 73 laws in their first year. And if you zoom in on what was passed, "it becomes even more bleak," as Axios put it. The vast majority were uncontroversial bills like renaming Veterans Affairs or must-pass bills like raising the debt ceiling and keeping the government funded. Axios has the story.


  • 10.5 million. The number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2021, according to new Pew Research Center estimates. 
  • 1.6 million. The number of unauthorized immigrants living in Texas in 2021, second highest in the nation behind California.
  • 67%. The percentage of unauthorized immigrants living in Texas whose country of origin is Mexico. 
  • 8%. The share of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. workforce who were from Texas in 2021, also second highest in the nation.
  • 1.1 million. The number of encounters with unauthorized migrants at the Texas-Mexico border as of May 2023.
  • 13%. The percentage of unauthorized immigrants living in Texas whose family income is below 50% of the poverty level, according to analysis by the Migration Policy Institute. 
  • 38%. The percentage of unauthorized immigrants living in Texas whose family income is at or above 200% of the poverty level.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the Republican fight for Speaker of the House.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was our interview with Gen Z economist Kyla Scanlon.
  • Slow down: 671 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking if Israel should adjust its ground offensive in Gaza with 35% saying Israel should be less aggressive. 30% said Israel should halt its offensive immediately, 18% said it should not adjust its offensive, 9% said it should be more aggressive, and a recent high of 8% were unsure or had no opinion. "Lord, how can anyone on our side of the Atlantic even begin to figure out what in God's green Earth to do over there?," one respondent asked.
  • Nothing to do with politics: This is where Christmas trees come from.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of Texas's immigration law? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

At age 17, California Central Valley resident Peter Park was busy with normal kid stuff — studying for important exams and trying to graduate. But the exam he was studying for was the California Bar Exam, and the school he was trying to graduate from was the Northwestern California University School of Law. Park started high school in 2019 at 13 years old, and simultaneously enrolled in a part-time four-year law program. He graduated high school early in 2021 then focused on law school and graduated in 2023. The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, where Park has been clerking since completing law school in August, announced that Park was notified last month that he had passed the Bar Exam on his first attempt. “I am extremely blessed to have discovered this path, and my hope is that more people will realize that alternative paths exist to becoming an attorney,” Park said in a press release. He is now the youngest person ever to practice law in California. The Guardian has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.