In the race to become America’s worst governor, Greg Abbott of Texas is quickly gaining ground on Florida’s Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis made headlines recently for signing into law the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans LGBTQ discussions in lower-grade classrooms. He also proposed to bus migrants who are living in Florida illegally to liberal enclaves like Martha’s Vineyard. Both DeSantis and Abbott certainly have tough competition. But Abbott’s latest border policies (not to mention his deeply anti-transgender directives) have been particularly cruel and costly.
Last week, Abbott’s new truck inspection policy at the Texas-Mexico border paralyzed traffic and commerce, causing multimillion-dollar losses. Abbott also started busing migrants to Washington, D.C., in an act of protest to “President Biden’s ongoing failure to secure the border,” according to an advisory from Abbott’s office announcing Sunday’s arrival of the sixth bus carrying “unlawful migrants” to the capital.
Abbott’s actions are nothing more than xenophobic political stunts, but they come with a high cost to Americans. Abbott, who is running for reelection to a third term, is reacting to Biden’s decision to end the Trump-era Title 42 public health policy, enacted because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has virtually ended asylum processing at the border and allowed the quick expulsion of migrants.
The consequences of Abbott’s policies have been significant. He ordered Texas Department of Public Safety troopers (over the objection of federal border agencies) to expand inspections on transport trucks coming from Mexico as they cross into Texas but after they’ve already cleared federal customs. For days, the enhanced inspections, which required that state troopers spend about an hour checking mechanical features of every truck that crossed the Texas border, caused major shipment delays and brutal wait times at international bridges. Abbott said he ordered the inspections to deter drug cartels and smugglers, who often use large vehicles to traffic illicit drugs and people into the country.
Even though the governor ended the extra inspections, the policy’s fallout continues. To get a sense of the economic impact, consider these eye-opening statistics about the Texas-Mexico border: About $440 billion worth of goods crosses that stretch each year and represents 68 percent of the total trade between the two countries; trade through the Texas-Mexico border helps support over 7 million jobs in the United States and Mexico. Abbott’s ill-advised and completely unnecessary inspections resulted in fruit and vegetable losses estimated at more than $240 million.
So if you have to pay triple for limes or avocados this week, you know who to blame.
As for the number of migrants or drugs detected? Zero. As of Thursday, more than 6,000 trucks had been inspected, but other than broken headlights and the like, no contraband was found. Even the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called out Abbott’s inspections for what they are: political chicanery to drum up support for a presidential run.
And then there are the buses with migrants that Abbott is sending to the nation’s capital because Texas “should not have to bear the burden” of the migrant influx that will result from the end of Title 42, which will occur on May 23. According to The Washington Post, most migrants on the first bus — from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — were oblivious to the fact that Abbott had used them as political pawns, and some were actually grateful for the free ride, which they took voluntarily, even though Washington wasn’t their final destination in the United States.
The increased fearmongering over what Republicans see as an impending border crisis and the weaponizing of the border and migrants are nothing new; those moves come straight from the Republican playbook. The midterms are coming, and that means it’s not just the GOP hyping up the border hysteria over the end of the Title 42 public health authority — it’s also some Democrats.
Abbott’s performative madness and its cost to the economy are only part of the problem. The other is that Democrats generally lack a meaningful, coherent response on immigration. They’re hoping the issue will fade away, or be ignored. Their policies are only “slightly better than the outright brutal policies” of the GOP, as Jenn Budd, a former senior border patrol agent and now an immigrant rights advocate, correctly described them. Immigration — and completely overhauling our immigration system — is the issue very few want to touch, which makes it a handy piñata for Republicans to bash.
Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.