Governor Abbott’s Zero Tolerance on Immigration

Activists and some border counties are resisting this GOP power grab.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott had all the right optics for rallying the Republican faithful to his anti-immigrant campaign: On June 30, Sean Hannity brought his Fox TV show to Hidalgo County, on Texas’s southern border, for a town hall with Donald Trump.

Onstage with Trump, Abbott said “we’re going to start arresting people, putting people behind bars, putting them in jail, not giving them the red-carpet treatment the Biden Administration has been giving them.”

Abbott, who has called for continuing work on former President Donald Trump’s border wall, is  misusing a Texas law, intended for natural catastrophes, to invoke extraordinary powers and portray immigrants seeking safe haven as a “disaster.”

Resistance to Abbott’s plan was readily apparent at a community town hall meeting in Hidalgo the morning of the Trump visit.

“The crisis that does exist at our border is that we are constantly used as a scapegoat, deprived of necessary resources to aid our historically and systematically disenfranchised community and denied justice,” said Roger Ramirez of the Laredo Immigrant Alliance.

The “You’re Both Fired!” banner behind the podium, along with chants of “Sí se puede,” left little doubt as to the prevailing sentiment.“Abbott is trying to step into the shoes of Trump,” said Laura Peña of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “And we say ‘no.’ ”

The Biden Administration, while rescinding many of Trump’s repressive anti-immigrant policies, continues to expel most asylum seekers at the border. That’s a big mistake and an injustice.

Although it’s unclear what the impact of Abbott’s antics will be, he is clearly attempting to throw a wrench into any efforts to move the Southern border in a humane direction.

“What Abbott is doing is trying to cause a crisis where one hadn’t existed,” Robert Heyman, a policy consultant with the El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, tells The Progressive.

Abbott, who is up for re-election next year as well as being considered a likely presidential contender in 2024, launched Operation Lone Star in early March. He teamed up with the Texas Department of Public Safety to “surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis.”

The broad sweep of Abbott’s plans became apparent in his May 31 disaster declaration directing state troopers to apply federal and state laws in assisting Texas counties. This includes arresting undocumented immigrants on state trespassing charges.

Abbott’s declaration also commits to providing jail space for those arrested, and he has emptied a state prison, the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley, so it can be used to incarcerate immigrants.

What’s more, his declaration instructs fifty-six state-licensed shelters to stop housing more than 4,000 unaccompanied children by the end of August—or lose their licenses.

Abbott’s attempt to commandeer border policy—a federal responsibility—also includes diverting $250 million from state spending for border wall construction as well as collecting private donations to do the same.

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James Goodman