Greg Abbott Has Used Migrants as Political Pawns Again and Again. Now, He Says He'll Bus Them to Capitol Hill.

Given his track record, it isn’t surprising that Abbott would opt for a blusterous anti-migrant spectacle that comes at the expense of Texas taxpayers.


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has long held that his state is facing an "invasion," which consists of thousands of migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico over the Rio Grande. Now, in an attempt to resist "the Biden open border policies" he claims are endangering Texans and compromising national security, Abbott is prepared to implement a policy that drew scrutiny as soon as he announced it.

"To help local officials whose communities are being overwhelmed by hordes of illegal immigrants," said Abbott, "Texas is providing charter buses to send these illegal immigrants who have been dropped off by the Biden administration to Washington, D.C."

The announcement follows the Biden administration's decision not to extend its Title 42 order, which allowed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials to immediately expel would-be migrants from land borders, thus barring them from claiming asylum. "We are sending them to the United States Capitol," Abbott continued, "where the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people that they are allowing to come across our border." Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said the state "will use as many buses as we need to follow the governor's direction to get this done."

Right away, immigration advocates and those with a passing respect for individual rights pointed out that Abbott's proposal, as stated, is both immoral and illegal. Transporting migrants across state lines against their will "sounds dangerously close to federal felony kidnapping," argued Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Council. Further, Title 8 of U.S. Code Section 1324(a) states that "any person who…knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise…shall be punished."

Perhaps those snags are why the governor's office has since softened its tone on busing migrants north. A press release published after the press conference stressed that "a migrant must volunteer to be transported" in order to board a bus or flight to Washington, D.C.

Even with the quick modification to Abbott's border measures announced yesterday, the new busing policy sits atop a heap of misguided, expensive, and dubiously legal initiatives the governor has undertaken in order to keep migrants out of his state—people who have the right under U.S. immigration law to seek asylum in Texas.

This policy comes from the man who proposed building a border wall of his own after former President Donald Trump's never came to fruition. Abbott's project, which is ongoing, ran into many of the same issues as Trump's—exorbitant costs, tension between federal and state jurisdiction, and the need for egregious eminent domain claims in order to get the job done (not to mention a lack of widespread support). "The elected officials in border communities don't support [Abbott's] plans," American Civil Liberties Union of Texas attorney David Donatti told Reason last year.

The governor's border-securing mission—Operation Lone Star—has been similarly fraught. While Abbott and other state officials bragged about "more than 11,000 criminal arrests, drug seizures that amount to millions of 'lethal doses,'" and tens of thousands of undocumented immigrant referrals to the federal government for deportation, watchdogs reported "arrests of U.S. citizens hundreds of miles from the border," "claiming drug busts from across the state," and changing statistics and metrics of success, according to The Texas Tribune. Several Texas National Guard soldiers stationed at the border committed suicide during the operation, while dozens more criticized the mission's execution in an internal survey. With its spotty track record, the still-active Operation Lone Star costs taxpayers more than $2.5 million each week.

With that background in mind, it isn't surprising that Abbott would opt for a blusterous anti-migrant spectacle that comes at the expense of Texas taxpayers and neglects any humanitarian or legal obligations to asylum seekers. Simply taking in migrants would be a far better use of resources than busing them out, given the significant contributions immigrants make to the Texan economy and labor force.

One in six Texas residents is an immigrant, and the state's immigrant population paid $12.3 billion in state and local taxes in 2018. Undocumented immigrants contributed $1.6 billion to that figure, all while being broadly ineligible for public benefits like Medicaid or food stamps in Texas. Immigrants contribute more than they take—certainly in Texas, which spends more than any other state on border security.

It is unquestionable that many small border communities may see their resources strained by migrant inflows, which will increase as the Biden administration hangs up its Title 42 order and the immediate expulsions it permitted. But spending exorbitant amounts of public money on Operation Lone Star hasn't stopped migrants from coming to Texas, and investing in interstate buses and flights for migrants won't solve the state's immigration issues, either. As controversial as the Biden administration's suspension may be, Title 42 encouraged repeat crossings and smuggling activity. Abbott publicly warns of impending crime and chaos at the border, but ignores that part of the equation.

Concerns about border communities' capacity to process migrants are valid, but it will be up to the Biden administration to ensure the proper agencies can process migrants efficiently. (Whether it can do that, of course, remains to be seen). Immigration enforcement is under the federal government's purview, and Abbott simply doesn't have the legal authority to do much of what he is doing at the border. Unfortunately, it seems that immigrants will continue to be pawns in his political game.