“I am the least of all your pilgrims here, but I am most in need of hope.” – Tom Russell
The border has a big problem. And it’s not immigration. It’s the governor of Texas. Yes, immigration is a challenge, and it’s about to get more difficult. But the governor of this state is only making border issues profoundly more complicated with his disingenuousness and performative bullshit as he wastes billions in taxpayer dollars. Greg Abbott’s hollow man gestures are designed only to draw attention to his political aspirations and have zero intent on managing a crisis. While he blames the president for a problem that has existed for decades, he tosses gasoline on a cultural and economic fire that is beginning to burn his state.
Because he has nothing to offer but political stunts.
Abbott’s latest clown-ass move is to order the inspection of every truck crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. He claims this is in response to the Biden administration lifting the Title 42 rule during Trump’s tenure, which allowed the deportation of immigrants seeking political asylum during the pandemic. Given the faltering economies around the world caused by Putin’s attack on Ukraine, and pandemic-ravaged industries and supply chains, the U.S.-Mexico frontier is expected to soon be even more besieged by undocumented immigrants, and Abbott will no longer be able to rely on Trump’s order to send asylum seekers home.
Instead, his solution is to slow down trade with Mexico by conducting truck inspections.
The federal government already checks truck cargoes before they cross into the states, and given the high volume of traffic, they are relatively efficient at keeping commerce flowing between the two countries. In 2021, the federal government reported that $661 billion in two-way trade passed between Texas and Mexico and accounted for a million jobs in this state. Even as the pandemic constricted supply lines, commerce with Mexico remained strong and continuously viable, and critical to the border region. But surviving bad politics and the posturing of an insecure governor might be a more daunting task.
The governor has ordered state troopers to set up inspection stations near the border and to wave over every trucker for a safety check. The cargo inspection is under the federal purview of customs and INS and is not supposed be checked again by a state authority. The result of Abbott’s approach is to simply slow down the movement of goods and produce because random mechanical and safety checks are already conducted on semi-trailers and panel trucks entering the country. Unless border inspectors and their drug-sniffing dogs missed a truck with a sleeping cartel member accompanying a load of fentanyl and the smuggler sneezed as a DPS trooper walked by, there’s not much chance of this silliness having any restrictive impact.
But it is already screwing with the Texas economy.
Less than 48 hours after Abbott’s mid-week announcement, the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) issued a statement describing the pain his pandering to the right wing base was causing.
“Last night,” the group said, “Commercial trucks crossing the Pharr International Bridges were in a miles long line that took until nearly 2am this morning to clear the bridge. Today, the line is at a stand-still as trucks are crawling out of the import lot. Many carriers and brokers are reporting hours of non-movement. Border security is an important element of this region, but so is trade that keeps millions of Texans employed.
“The execution of this order has wreaked havoc up and down our supply chain and is likely to leave state store shelves with limited fresh produce supplies.”
What TIPA did not mention was the impact that a reduced supply of produce will have on food prices. With inflation caused by the pandemic and unchecked energy prices for transportation, the cost of feeding Texas families will increase dramatically because of Abbott’s nonsense, and food insecurity will expand among disadvantaged groups.
Inspections by Texas could also take hours per vehicle, depending upon the detail involved in the effort. Nothing DPS troopers do is likely to catch smuggling that would not have already been stopped at the border by federal authorities. What the inspections are likely to do, however, if they last long enough, will be to cost Texas jobs, and, perhaps, force businesses to close. Abbott claims he is cracking down on cartels and human smugglers because he thinks the flow of contraband will increase when the Title 42 restrictions on asylum-seekers expires in May. Instead of stopping illegal movement of people and drugs, though, the misguided governor is grinding to a halt the flow of free trade between two friendly nations so he can beat his chest and say he is doing the federal government’s job of protecting the border.
That’s also why he plans to offer immigrants free bus rides to Washington, D.C.
When he channels the words of his hero Trump, Abbott talks about all immigrants as drug smugglers, human traffickers, and cop killers, a gross generalization that completely lacks a basis in fact. People sneaking across the border are, in an overwhelming number, turning themselves in to federal agents to be processed. They want protection, and an opportunity to start a new life. Abbott plans to give some immigrants a chance in America by using Texas taxpayer money to put them on buses and drop them off on the steps of the capitol building, which will do nothing more than create a scene to get the weary travelers on network television and draw more attention to the mentally unstable governor of Texas.
Abbott played tough guy at his news conference announcing the migrant transportation. He claimed DPS troopers dressed in riot gear would meet immigrants at the border when they crossed and place them on buses to Washington. What he described was mass kidnapping, and his staff walked back his rhetoric and later announced a clarification that the transportation on chartered buses and planes would be completely voluntary and could not occur unless the immigrant showed proof that they had been processed by DPS. He is not, of course, interested in spending money to help resolve the border crisis because if he were the governor would offer transportation to other locations. Instead, his goal is to embarrass the president, and raise his own political profile to be prepared for an opportunity to chase the GOP nomination in 2024 by appealing to his party’s xenophobes.
Beware his next move, which is likely to be rounding of LGBTQ and transgender Texans and shipping them to California.
The governor has already compounded the death and suffering on the border with his Operation Lone Star, a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle that has resulted in suicides of National Guard Troops and clogged state courts with illegal arrests. The waste of time, money, and human resources has had no discernible effect on immigration, but it has teed up Abbott to talk about how tough he is on illegal immigration. The state has already spent $2 billion and the Texas Military Department, (yes, there is such a thing because you never know when we may need to invade Oklahoma), said it needs just a tad more, about $531 million to keep the project rolling just through the month of May. Imagine what that amount of money might do to provide health care to the state’s uninsured million children.
Because the state has no more federal authority regarding illegal border crossings than it does with truck inspections, DPS troopers were ordered by his governorship to arrest immigrants when they showed up on private property. There were reports people were lured onto private land by officers and then arrested. An uncounted number of cases have been tossed out of state and local courts for various reasons ranging from illegal arrests to failure to read Miranda rights and even being held without access to an attorney. Violating constitutional rights of anyone arriving in the U.S. appeared to be central to Abbott’s plan. According to a report by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune, Abbott and the DPS claim to have made 11,000 criminal arrests, though a large, undetermined number of them were not tied to the border.
Abbott is also sacrificing the mental health of troops, who have complained they have no tasks to perform because their mission lacks a real purpose. Members of congress have demanded an investigation into the delayed pay, poor working conditions, and morale problems that have led to four suicides, one attempted suicide, and an accidental shooting death. No one needs to be an astute political observer to see that Abbott is doing little more than using troops of the Texas National Guard as political props to bolster his hopeless dream of national office. There are 10,000 soldiers and police officers deployed who have lives and families and more meaningful productive work that is located elsewhere. They are not reducing immigration. They are only turning people into criminals.
The immigration crisis is not completely intractable, however. If Abbott had any interest in solving it, he’d call the legislature into a special session and pass laws to criminalize the hiring of people who are in the country without documentation. Of course, that would shut down most of this state’s housing and construction and agriculture businesses, not to mention the hospitality industry. Obviously, he won’t do such a thing. He is only willing to criminalize the immigrants who are doing the work his donors want accomplished.
The governor’s other option would be to reintroduce the Bracero Work Program by initiating and cooperating with the federal government to manage labor issues with Mexican help. The Braceros were allowed to cross the border on temporary permits as guest workers to deal with labor shortages during World War II. While the agreement between Washington and Mexico ended in 1964 because of increased mechanization of agriculture harvests, there is probably value in reconsidering the idea in today’s booming economy, which is badly hampered by labor shortages.
Won’t happen, though. This is all about scaring voters with brown people coming up from some country down south. Greg Abbott is running a crime cartel with no other goal than turning him into a candidate who can claim he is tough on immigration. What he really is, though, is a criminal with his own cartel of law officers and soldiers who have shown they can violate constitutional rights, waste tax dollars, and pre-empt federal laws by taking over operations for which the state has no authority. Meanwhile, he uses state troopers to interrupt the flow of legal commerce by stopping trucks of produce without any legal probable cause. Abbott does not care about breaking the law, though, any more than he cares about the mothers and children cutting themselves on the miles of concertina wire he has spread along the border.
And those are just a few drops of the blood he has running down his hands.