Strangers at the Gate

"Whatever political points Abbott has scored with the Trumptocracy by relocating 50,000 immigrants to predominantly Democratically controlled cities, he has almost certainly inspired more than that number to make the trek toward Texas."

Strangers at the Gate
Waiting to be Processed into America

“People are talking about immigration, emigration and the rest of the fucking thing. It's all fucking crap. We're all human beings, we're all mammals, we're all rocks, plants, rivers. Fucking borders are just such a pain in the fucking arse.” - Shane MacGowan, Writer

Imagine you are destitute, a father and husband living in the mountains outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras. There is no work and your family suffers daily hunger and other privations only visited upon the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. When you make your way down into the city to search for a job or food, a cartel member recognizes you and suggests your only hope is to join the gang, and if you do not soon make that choice, the lives of your children might become jeopardized. You are also aware enough to know that the 2009 coup of your country’s government was facilitated by the U.S. and okayed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The poverty and desperation surrounding you is just an accumulation of consequences of historic meddling and imperialism by Americans extracting profit from Honduran fruit plantations and other natural resources.

Photo by Greg Bulla on Unsplash

As your desperation has increased, you contemplate joining masses of your countrymen planning to walk north toward the U.S. - Mexican border to claim asylum. The trip is a matter of grave risk to your family, and you, but daily struggles for food and security multiply in Tegucigalpa. An inability to make a decision only adds to your anxieties, until you hear a credible person tell you that a governor of a border state is offering free bus rides to northern cities in the U.S. when immigrants cross the Rio Grande, especially if they have claims of asylum. The destinations for the buses are also said to be assisting immigrants with food, housing, and assimilation into their new country. Your decision on the dangerous trip to America has just gotten simpler.

These are the political and economic dynamics driving tens of thousands of Central Americans to leave their homes for the U.S., and the policies of Texas Governor Greg Abbott are only increasing their numbers. Free bus rides to the North where your family can melt away into the population and start a new life with an unlikely court hearing years down the road? What father living in the midst of a narcotic near anarchy would not rush toward America? The word is circulating widely in the Northern Triangle Countries of Central America that Abbott of Texas has already provided 50,000 undocumented immigrants free bus trips to cities where the politics are more considerate of the displaced from other nations.

Abbott’s multi-billion dollar militarization of the Texas-Mexico border is slowly backfiring on his politics. The most recent evidence of this is a measure he has put before the state legislature during its special session, which was originally called to consider taking money from public schools to give it without restrictions to private and parochial, for-profit educational companies. Abbott took yet another unconstitutional step in his administration by demanding lawmakers consider changing the Texas penal code to empower the state’s arrest of anyone entering Texas illegally. The U.S. Constitution and numerous Supreme Court cases, of course, clearly delineate that authority to the federal government and the Customs and Border Protection agency.

Whatever political points Abbott has scored with the Trumptocracy by relocating 50,000 immigrants to predominantly Democratically controlled cities, he has almost certainly inspired more than that number to make the trek toward Texas. He plays, not a zero-sum game, but a net negative return on the taxpayer investment. His free bus rides have inspired an unknown number to seek U.S. immigration and it’s not overstatement to suggest the 50,000 bus passengers have been offset by double or triple that number who have been motivated by Abbott’s relocation project. He has compounded the problem he professes to want to solve by wasting $75 million in Texas taxpayer dollars on the bus charters.

Many of the Texas governor’s policies are designed to serve as distractions from larger failures. The passage of HB 4 out of a House of Representatives’ committee indicates he has support to attempt criminalization of undocumented immigrants. Depending on any criminal records, illegal border crossers, under the proposed laws, could face two to twenty years incarceration. State and local law enforcement would also be authorized to arrest immigrants and take them to ports of entry for return to Mexico. The unaddressed problems in this measure are numerous. A large percentage of migrants are not from Mexico and given Abbott’s strained relationship with that country they are unlikely to accept Central Americans back into their sovereign territory. Further, law officers will be inclined to increase their profiling of the local border populations, making erroneous and unlawful assumptions about citizenship based upon an individual’s appearance.

Those are just a few of the complications arising when a state government thinks it is lawful to supersede federal authority on national laws. There is great likelihood the Texas conservatives’ thinking, (if thinking were involved), is a construct created by politicos interested in testing this state’s rights to govern its own immigration challenges without Washington’s oversight. One of the governor’s other border stunts, a razor-wheeled floating barrier in the Rio Grande, has already ended up before the conservative U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans after a federal judge in El Paso ordered the obstruction removed because it violated federal laws over navigable waterways and treaties with Mexico. No indication has been offered when the appeals court might rule but a loss by Texas will almost certainly result in a motion to the high court in Washington.

Neither the law nor morality have chastened the Texas governor, though, who continues to act with impunity, doing as he wishes. He recently ordered the Texas Military Department to string concertina wire west of El Paso because migrants entering New Mexico from south of the border were then turning eastward into Texas. This is yet another unseemly precedent with one U.S. state creating a border between itself and a contiguous state. Violations of interstate commerce laws at the federal level might be an outcome of Abbott’s unrolling of more miles of concertina wire. New Mexico’s governor has not commented on the matter but the Democratic Party chairs of the two states issued a joint public statement.

"New Mexico Democratic leaders believe that everyone who comes to our country in pursuit of a better life, as an asylum-seeker or otherwise, deserves just and humane treatment, and the laws of New Mexico reflect those values," they said. "Greg Abbott knows that our neighbors in New Mexico are not the enemy but is working overtime to gain Fox News airtime to cover up his proposed legislation to implement unpopular school voucher scams, imprison vulnerable migrants and their families, and his own party's public infighting. Shame on Greg Abbott for using public tax dollars to uplift his dangerous approach to border security and infringing upon Texans' and New Mexicans' right to move freely across state lines. Texas and New Mexico Democrats condemn Abbott's razor wire fencing along our state borders and call for its removal effective immediately."

The only notable impact of Abbott’s policies has been an increase in migrants to the border. The number of arrests and detainments at the border in August totaled 232,972, which is the highest number since 2002, according to Customs and Border Protection. Surely, the increase in the El Paso, Del Rio, Laredo, and McAllen sectors can be blamed, at least partially, on a rush to get to the U.S. before the free bus rides north are ended. The figures reported by USCBP show that about 8,000 people arrive on the Mexican frontier every day, and that number frequently shows a majority from Central America rather than Mexico. An estimated, and record, 3 million are expected to have made the trip to the border this year.

The Republicans trying to blame Joe Biden for the crisis are busy breaking laws to persuade the public. Abbott defies the Constitution while his consort Ron DeSantis of Florida uses deception to run what the Bexar County Sheriff in San Antonio calls a “covert criminal operation.” In an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Salazar said, “From what we’re able to tell at this point, basically, it looks like they drove around the area, looking for people that may look like the target audience that they’re after. And then made the approach. They preyed upon people to get them onto that plane. They exploited them, took advantage of the situation that they were in, a very desperate situation, and then took ’em there under false pretenses.”

Salazar said an agent of the governor’s office in Florida lied to people and told them they were going to a place where there were fewer migrants and that they would be helped with housing and jobs. None of them was told they were being flown to Massachusetts. The DeSantis scheme, which has backfired with the same certainty as Abbott’s buses, has led to a criminal complaint in San Antonio, which is being reviewed by the district attorney. The sheriff also signed a U Visa document for 49 of the immigrants DeSantis lured onto his $600,000 flight, which certifies they were victims of a crime. The document enables people in the country illegally to stay up to four years to testify against any criminal, and it provides a possible path to legal residency, which is not exactly what Florida Man had in mind.

Abbott told an audience of conservatives in New York City recently that the president could “flip a switch” and make the border problem disappear, which is a stunning, nonsensical claim. This problem has been building for years as a consequence of U.S. adventurism in Central America and our national appetite for illegal drugs coming out of Mexico. Abbott and his fellow Trumpsters have presented no interest in creating a bi-partisan immigration reform law that treats people humanely. Their only interest has been in frightening their constituents to believe we are being unjustly invaded. No one on the right appears to want a solution. They prefer the problem remain as a political axe to be swung at the president and his party. Given the desperation of immigrants and their steadily increasing numbers, the only answer might be a wall with armed guards in towers, who are authorized to shoot anyone who makes an attempt to breach it to reach America.

And that may be exactly what Greg Abbott wants.

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James Moore is a New York Times bestselling author, political analyst, and business communications consultant who has been writing and reporting on Texas politics since 1975. He writes frequently for CNN and other national media outlets and can be reached a