Greg Abbott announced on Wednesday that Texas would set up checkpoints to stop commercial vehicles coming from Mexico and would charter buses to transport migrants released by federal agents north to Washington, signalling the beginning of a new phase in the state’s increasingly heated political battle over immigration.
According to the governor’s political aides, the tug-of-war over border policy has been politically advantageous for him in his re-election campaign, and it reflects genuine concern among Texas officials and voters that not enough has been done to address the surging number of migrant encounters at the border.
Both security and politics were on show at Mr. Abbott’s press conference, as he attacked the Biden administration and vowed that the first migrants who accepted to be bused from Texas to Washington would be dropped off at the doorsteps of federal politicians on Capitol Hill.
Ms. Abbott, a Republican competing for re-election in November, has worked to strengthen the engagement of Texas law enforcement along the border, participating in a vast expansion of state operations to detain and, in some instances, arrest migrants since President Biden took office.
This week’s declaration by Mr. Abbott went even farther, and he stressed that it was just one component of the state’s reaction to a shift in federal policy that is projected to result in a significant rise in the number of migrants arriving at the border in the coming months.
He said that National Guard forces will undertake “mass migration drills” this week, including with riot gear, in order to prepare for an inflow similar to the one that overwhelmed authorities in Del Rio last autumn. It was also announced that the army, in conjunction with state police, would erect “boat blockades” in some regions of the Rio Grande.
Texans are taking these actions at a time when the Biden administration is prepared to reverse a Trump-era policy that was implemented during the coronavirus outbreak and in which migrants were turned away at the border under an emergency public health order known as Title 42. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that the order would be removed in the latter part of this month.
Over the last two years, the order, which empowers federal immigration officers to turn away migrants, including those requesting asylum, has been used almost 1.7 million times to deport people.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants are expected to arrive daily at the southern border, which has already experienced a major increase in illegal crossings as a consequence of the relaxation of the order, according to federal authorities.
The federal government is in charge of immigration enforcement; yet, Mr. Abbott has found ways to involve the state of Texas in immigration problems. Late last year, he authorised state police to begin an extraordinary policy of detaining migrants who were found on private property and charging them with misdemeanour trespassing. Thousands of people were imprisoned, with some having to wait months for court appearances to take place.
They others follow a similar approach, with the exception of one that makes creative use of a state law enforcement function — commercial vehicle safety inspections — to detain people travelling from Mexico. As of press time, it was unclear when the checkpoints would be erected or how many people would be employed at them.
The migrants who agreed to be bused to Washington by the state, according to officials, would be individuals who had been freed from federal detention and had entered the United States illegally.
Officials provided only rudimentary explanations of how their scheme would operate. When asked at a press conference how many buses would be utilised, W. Nim Kidd, the director of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said he didn’t know how many would be deployed. According to Mr. Kidd, “we will utilise as many buses as are required.”
Several agency officials said that the number of buses required would be determined by requests from local authorities, and that migrants may be transported to other locations outside of Texas, including places such as New York and California.
Efforts similar to this one were made last year by Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who offered legislation directing migrants landing in South Texas to Democratic areas in the Northeast and California.
As part of his border security strategy, Mr. Abbott has also constructed miles of fence and other obstacles, as well as deploying thousands of National Guard personnel, a task that is anticipated to cost $2 billion per year. Texan military officials said this week that the endeavour, which started last year, had been more expensive than expected and that they would need an extra $500 million to keep it going.
Governor Rick Perry has been under fire from conservatives who feel he should go even farther and proclaim a “invasion” under a provision of the United States Constitution that proponents say would give Texas authorities the ability to turn back migrants as they cross the border.