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Gov. Abbott's new border policies spur backlash among many – Republicans included

Gov. Greg Abbott and other state officials
Gabriel C. Pérez
The inspections of commercial vehicles are among several border security changes Gov. Greg Abbott announced in response to President Joe Biden’s decision to rescind Title 42 — a pandemic-era policy that rapidly expels asylum-seeking migrants on public health grounds.

A gimmick. Stuck on stupid. A clog in the drain.

Those are some of the phrases Republicans, Democrats and immigrant rights activists are using to describe new border security initiatives Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week, which include busing apprehended migrants to Washington, D.C.

Abbott, who is running for reelection in November, also announced last week the state would be ramping up vehicle inspections along the U.S.-Mexico border. This has already led to hours-long lines at checkpoints and protests by Mexican truckers.

Aileen Teague, an assistant professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, said Abbott's latest proposals are part political theater: Politicians often use immigration issues as a bargaining chip during election years.

“What Gov. Abbott presents is just another sort of political move of kinda moving the issue to Washington’s back door,” Teague told The Texas Newsroom.

“Does it actually make the entire situation of comprehensive immigration reform, economic connections between Mexico and the United States, and the migration issue — does it make it better? I think that the answer is a resounding no,” she said.

Abbott has described his latest proposals as a response to President Joe Biden’s decision to rescind Title 42 — the pandemic-era policy that permitted the expulsion of migrants seeking asylum on public health grounds.

“This is Gov. Abbott’s way of showing that he’s discontented with losing the sort of privilege to detain migrants," Teague said.

Abbott’s mass relocation policy targets those migrants who were apprehended along the border by federal law enforcement agencies and were later released into the U.S. while their court cases move forward.

Last week, when Abbott unveiled the policy, he said Texas was going to provide "charter buses to send these illegal immigrants who have been dropped off by the Biden Administration to Washington, D.C.”

But soon after, Abbott clarified that the program was completely voluntary.

“If I were to go to Washington, D.C., and take you and put you on a bus and take you down to the Rio Grande Valley, that would be kidnapping," Abbott told Fox News.

While some in the GOP praised Abbott’s new plan, others called the governor’s proposals a political stunt.

In a Facebook post, State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, called Abbott’s move a "gimmick" and “a stunt to grab a 'tough on the border' headline.”

Allen West, the former chair of the Republican Party of Texas, said in a series of tweets the idea was “stuck on stupid.”

"Busses? Gas? Food? Is this what the budget surplus will be used for instead of property tax relief?" West tweeted. "You don’t stop an invasion by transporting the invading entity."

Of course, it should be noted: West ran against Abbott in last month’s Republican primary for governor.

Questioning the governor's motives

While experts such as Teague say the governor’s moves are more about politics than practical solutions, some leaders from communities along the border are welcoming Abbott’s proposal.

Don McLaughlin is the mayor of Uvalde, a town of about 25,000 people located 60 miles away from the border. McLaughlin recently told the Uvalde Leader-News that U.S. Customs and Border Protection said they would be releasing up to 150 migrants per day in Uvalde. That influx of migrants overwhelms his town, he told The Texas Newsroom last week.

“If you dump them here in Uvalde, what do we do with them?" McLaughlin said. "We don’t have a facility to house them. We don’t have a facility to feed them. We just don’t.”

“Do I think it’s a political stunt? You know, I thought about that. But at the same token, I think it’s more of a step to bring awareness to what’s going on at the Southern border."
Don McLaughlin, mayor of Uvalde

McLaughlin, who endorsed one of Abbott’s primary challengers in the primary, said he believes the governor is genuine with his policy proposals, although he recognized there might be some strategy behind it.

“Do I think it’s a political stunt? You know, I thought about that," McLaughlin said. "But at the same token, I think it’s more of a step to bring awareness to what’s going on at the Southern border … because guess what? Every news media in the country has picked up that we are going to bus them to Washington, D.C.”

But for immigrant and civil rights groups, such as the ACLU of Texas, Abbott’s motives are clear.

“This is yet another effort by Gov. Abbott to use migrants as political pawns to further his own political ends," said Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas.

She said her organization is monitoring the implementation of the policy.

On Wednesday, Abbott announced in a statement that the first bus carrying apprehended migrants had arrived in Washington, D.C. Fox News first reported on the arrival.

"By busing migrants to Washington, D.C., the Biden Administration will be able to more immediately meet the needs of the people they are allowing to cross our border," Abbott said in a statement. "Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden Administration’s failure to secure our border."

Abbott said the migrants hailed from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia.

But it's unclear how many migrants were on board, or in which city they board the bus.

Seth Christensen, the chief of media and communications at the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the agency in charge of the busing program, declined to comment, and referred The Texas Newsroom to the governor's statement.

On Monday, Christensen told The Texas Newsroom buses had been dispatched to certain communities that had expressed interest, but that "a large majority of the communities that originally reached out for support through this operation have now said that the federal government has stopped dropping migrants in their towns.”

Enhanced vehicle inspection protests

Besides the busing of migrants, Abbott's implementation of enhanced commercial vehicle inspections along the border hasraised serious issues.

Since its implementation last week, the ports of entries along the southern border have experienced hours-long wait times.

In response, Mexican truckers on Monday effectively blocked multiple ports of entry to Texas in protest.

“You cannot solve a border crisis by creating another crisis at the border."
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller

An official with CBP told The Texas Newsroom commercial traffic was halted at the Pharr International Bridge in the Rio Grande Valley due to a protest on the Reynosa side of the bridge.

In a news release Tuesday, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a Republican, called on Abbott to end the inspections, which he characterized as a "clog in the drain."

“You cannot solve a border crisis by creating another crisis at the border,” Miller said.

Raymond Robertson, the director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy at Texas A&M University, said the delays will significantly hurt the economy on the state and national level.

“We know that these types of delays are expensive to businesses because most of the things that we are importing from Mexico are used by businesses, either grocery stores, retailers, or other manufacturing relies on Mexican parts," Robertson said.

He added that Abbott's latest policies could also backfire by undoing some of the work he's done to improve the economy in the state.

“During Gov. Abbott's term the economy in Texas is recovering," Robertson said. "We are growing and we need workers ... so busing the workers to D.C. seems to be moving them from where they might actually be needed to where they might not be needed.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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