In his war against migrants, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is at it again. And what happens in Texas, doesn’t always stay in Texas.
Last week, Abbott issued an executive order instructing National Guard troops and state police officers to detain migrants who illegally cross the border from Mexico and return them to ports of entry at the border, which is an immigration enforcement role that typically falls to the federal government. It’s an unconstitutional move that Abbott justifies using white supremacist language and rhetoric to describe an “invasion” of migrants due to “historic levels of illegal crossings,” per a press release announcing the policy. (Spoiler alert: current migration levels are not exactly historic.)
At its core, Abbott’s executive order is an escalation in the Republican governor’s pattern of using migrants as political piñatas, and it’s the type of fearmongering that could lead to dangerous outcomes — beyond Texas and the border.
In the last year or so, Abbott has: created a taxpayer-funded program to charter buses to transport migrants to Washington, D.C.; ordered extra inspections of trucks at border points, which caused delays and US trade losses of billions of dollars while not turning up any smuggled cargo; announced his intention to challenge free public education to children of immigrants without status, a precedent set in Plyler v. Doe, a landmark Supreme Court case; and launched Operation Lone Star, a multi-billion initiative to ramp up border security that is now the target of a federal civil rights investigation.
Immigration lawyers and Democratic elected officials have sounded the alarm about Abbott’s dangerous demonization of migrants.
“By hinting at invasion rhetoric, Abbott’s statement gives credence to extremist viewpoints who see migrants as no different than an invading army and want to use violent force to repel them,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, wrote on his organization’s Immigration Impact website. Democratic US Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas also hinted at the potential for violence in a press briefing hosted this week by America’s Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group.
“The use of migrants as a prop is nothing new, but it has gotten more dangerous,” said Escobar, who represents the congressional district that includes El Paso and other nearby border towns. “I am very concerned for communities like mine that we will see more acts of violence against immigrants, Latinos, and communities on the border because of this kind of rhetoric.”
It’s not hyperbole to say that the “invasion” rhetoric has deadly consequences. Should there be violence linked to Abbott and his dangerous misuse of resources, Escobar added, “I would hope that our citizens would hold people like Greg Abbott accountable for that.”
Recall the El Paso massacre at Walmart in 2019 when a gunman driven by his beliefs in the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” killed 20 people. Just a day before, Abbott had sent a campaign letter to supporters citing anti-immigrant rhetoric, writing “we’ll need to take matters into our own hands.”
Yet the fearmongering that Abbott is sowing with policies that invite racial profiling is not limited to the border and the Lone Star state.
“We’ve identified over 120 different paid political ads from 44 different Republican campaigns in this midterm cycle, in over 330 separate tweets from the first six months of this year, across 79 different Republican campaigns, that have promoted a version of the false white replacement and invasion conspiracies,” Zachary Mueller, political director of America’s Voice, said in the press call. One notable example is the Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, Kari Lake, who has vowed to declare a border invasion if she wins.
Texas has quickly become a place to try some of the most extremist GOP policies, said Mario Carrillo, campaign manager at America’s Voice. But other state political leaders are surely watching Abbott. “What happens here, doesn’t often stay here and others will be watching to see what kind of impact this executive order has in the state.”
Abbott is running for reelection and will face Democrat Beto O’Rourke in November. The latest poll points to a close race: Abbott has a five-point lead, which is notable since Abbott bested his last challenger in 2018 by 13 percentage points. No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994.
Without question, Abbott’s anti-immigrant fearmongering is becoming normalized. Demonization often leads to violence, and in the GOP, which seems to be bankrupt of any thoughtful ideas, creating false enemies may be its most consistent platform.
Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.