First, it was Rick Perry. Then it was David Dewhurst. Now, it is Dan Patrick – though, honestly, the real surprise is that it took so long for him to join the chorus. All of these elected officials have done something completely irresponsible by stoking deep fear over personal safety for political gain.
The issue in question? Whether we should be worried about ISIS coming across the border from Mexico into the United States. For Rick Perry, hyping up the ISIS threat helped him to add credibility to his National Guard surge on the border. If the threat comes not only from children crossing the border without documents, but also bloodthirsty fundamentalist terrorists, drastic measures in regards to border protection are much more admissible.
For Rick Perry, it is enough that there could, theoretically, be ISIS at the border because it is, well, a border. Speaking at both the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin and the Value Voters Summit, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had more specific threats in mind.
At Tribune Fest, Dewhurst mentioned a note that said “See you in New York,” and extrapolated that this was proof that terrorists could be leaving messages for others coming through. Last Friday at the Value Voters Summit, Dewhurst said that“Prayer rugs have recently been found on the Texas side of the border in the brush.” The offending “rug,” which is now thought to be an Adidas soccer jersey, was meant to be proof of Islamic terrorist activity in Texas.
Not only is it incredibly Islamophobic to equate finding a prayer rug with finding proof of a fundamentalist religious terrorist group, it is also incredibly damaging to Texans. Dewhurst’s comment was meant to stir support for tough border security, and what better way to do that than to conflate border security with one of the most daunting threats facing the world today?
Dan Patrick stepped into the mix in last night’s debate. After a question was raised about border security, Patrick mentioned ISIS by name when he explained why a fully secured border was absolutely necessary for Texans. A person who wants to be the next Lt. Gov. of Texas went on a debate broadcast across the state and purposefully gave voice to a claim many have criticized as a strategy to draw on fear so he can win votes.
At the debate, Patrick also attempted to relate the border surge and these incredibly punitive plans for the border region to immigration reform. His comment almost directly echoes Perry’s statement from a previous event out of state, where the Governor explained, “Until the border is secure, there will be no conversation in this country about any immigration reform.”
For Patrick, Perry, and Dewhurst, real border security is the key to immigration reform. Supposedly, it is our loosely-guarded border – and not a politically gridlocked Congress – that is keeping us from the promised land of immigration reform. But this is a new narrative, and an important one. It allows Republicans to pair offensively xenophobic things – like insinuating that ISIS has cornered the market on prayer rugs – with seemingly compassionate feelings about the non-terrorist immigrants.
Patrick even went so far last night as to talk about the right of immigrants to have dignity. To him, he explained, traveling across a muddy river or through a desert is not the kind of journey a person ought to have to get here. By appearing to be on the side of immigration reform he will never truly have to understand, advocate for, or vote on, Patrick is able to simultaneously occupy the public roles of bigot and saint.
But the most insidious aspect of the ISIS on the border rhetoric goes deeper than the cognitive dissonance, and even further than the negative economic impact these statements are having on our border cities. The entire goal of terrorist groups is to create just that: terror. By playing on the fear that Texans have of this fundamentalist extremist group, Republicans are not only trying to fear-monger voters back to their side: they are, quite literally, helping the terrorists win.