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Gov. Abbott: Texas hasn't shot migrants on the border because Biden will 'charge us with murder'

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks on the tarmac of an airport with planes behind him. His podium says, "Securing the border."
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
/
The Texas Newsroom
Gov. Greg Abbott talks to reporters at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on May 8, 2023, after announcing the deployment of a new Texas National Guard unit called Texas Tactical Border Force.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include clarifying remarks made by Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday morning.

Backlash is mounting against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over recent comments he made suggesting the state has decided to not shoot migrants crossing the border unauthorized “because of course the Biden administration will charge us with murder.”

The Republican made the remarks last week during an interview with far-right talk show host Dana Loesch. Abbott’s comments gained wider attention Thursday, when a clip from the conversation was recirculated on social media by WCPT 820 AM, a Chicago-based progressive radio station.

The interview originally aired last Friday, Jan. 5, on Loesch’s nationally syndicated radio program. In it, Abbott said the state has deployed “all the tools and strategies” to curtail illegal migration, including placing barriers in the Rio Grande River, and signing a law making it illegal to enter Texas from another country without authorization.

Abbott then added, “The only thing we are not doing is, we are not shooting people who cross the border because of course the Biden administration will charge us with murder.”

Abbott’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment asking for clarification. However, at a press conference Friday morning, Abbott told reporters his remarks were made after he "was asked to point out where the line is drawn about what would be illegal, and I pointed out something that is obviously illegal."

The Republican governor has been in frequent conflict with the Biden administration over border and immigration issues. The administration affirms enforcement of immigration law is a federal responsibility, not the states.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In a statement issued Thursday, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said Abbott’s remarks show that Republicans have “no morality or humanity.”

“The only thing stopping Greg Abbott from ordering law enforcement to shoot migrant women and children are murder charges,” Hinojosa said.

Extreme rhetoric

This is not the first time Abbott and other Republicans have embraced extreme rhetoric when referring to migrants.

In a post on X directed to Abbott, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said Thursday she couldn’t believe she had to clarify that murdering people was unacceptable.

“It’s language like yours that left 23 people dead and 22 others injured in El Paso,” Escobar said.

In 2019, a white supremacist killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso. In a manifesto posted online attributed to the shooter before the massacre, the gunman said he made the killings in response to an “invasion” by Hispanic migrants crossing the border.

More than four years later, Abbott and other Republicans continue to use similar rhetoric, despite condemnation from Democrats and other critics.

In 2023, Abbott declared an “invasion” at the border and blamed President Biden for the surge of migrants.

The Republican-led Texas Legislature has backed the governor on these issues, including during last year’s regular and special legislative sessions. State lawmakers passed several new measures that Republicans say will deter people from crossing the border without authorization.

Most notable among them is Senate Bill 4, which is currently being challenged in federal court by the U.S. Justice Department. SB 4 creates new state crimes for those who cross the border between Texas’ port of entries. It would also allow law enforcement agents to detain or arrest migrants they believe are in the country illegally, and gives judges the authority to send migrants back to Mexico, even if they are not from that country,

U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta has said “SB 4 is clearly unconstitutional” because it adopts “immigration laws that interfere with the framework enacted by Congress.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the Texas Capitol Reporter for The Texas Newsroom. Got a tip? Email him at smb@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel.
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