The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Greg Abbott’s border stunts show the GOP doesn’t want to fix immigration

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) speaks during a June 2021 tour of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Pharr, Tex. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Perhaps Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) got jealous of the attention Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was getting with a steady stream of culture war trolling and anti-gay legislation. Abbott may have asked himself how he could stand out. The answer was obvious: We’ve got a border here in Texas, so how about some stunts of my own?

So Abbott got to work, and in so doing made himself as good a representation of GOP immigration politics as you could hope for.

First, the dumb part: After the Biden administration announced plans to end the use of Title 42, which has been used to quickly expel asylum seekers rather than allowing them to argue their case before a judge, Abbott said he’d be sending the immigration problem right to President Biden’s doorstep, in the form of buses full of immigrants. Take that!

So they loaded up the first bus with volunteers, migrants who were apparently happy to get a free ride to Washington courtesy of the state of Texas. “Frankly, we did not have the money to get here otherwise, so we are very thankful for the help,” said one mother traveling with her two children. “From here on in, I think things will be better.”

They were dropped off a couple of blocks from the Capitol — right in front of the D.C. studios of Fox News, which has relentlessly hyped Abbott’s stunt as a way to stick it to Biden.

Oh, no — immigrants, right here in Washington? Whatever will we do?

The truth, of course, is that the D.C. area is incredibly diverse; its residents include immigrants from all over the world. I am reasonably certain that a few dozen more will not create any kind of crisis that the White House will have to address with a wholesale revision of its immigration policies.

So that just made Abbott look like a fool. The other stunt he pulled, however, has been far more destructive. In fact, you might even call it an attempt to sabotage the U.S. economy.

Last week Abbott implemented a policy of secondary inspections for trucks crossing the border from Mexico, so that after they pass through the regular inspection by Customs and Border Protection, they have to be inspected again by Texas state authorities. The supposed justification was a search for drugs and undocumented immigrants.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) placed new restrictions on April 6, requiring secondary inspections of commercial trucks and other vehicles entering from Mexico. (Video: Reuters)

The result has been a nightmarish backup slowing the enormous commercial traffic that crosses the border every day to a crawl, with produce going bad in trucks as they wait in the traffic jam. The stunt has been such a disaster that Abbott was even excoriated for it by the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page. The governor has already partially walked it back, announcing Wednesday that he would ease the inspections at one bridge. As the Texas Tribune reported, “neither Abbott nor the Texas [Department of Public Safety] could point to any drug seizures or encounters with undocumented migrants when asked Wednesday about the success of the initiative.”

As governor, Abbott could actually implement substantive immigration reforms. In practice, he leans toward the same kind of playacting, posturing and feigned outrage that characterize all Republicans’ approach to immigration, whether they’re right at the border or thousands of miles away.

It’s all driven by twin fantasies Republicans want to propagate. First, they want everyone convinced that there’s always a “crisis” at the border, where America is overrun with migrants who are coming to destroy the country. Second, they tell everyone that Biden has an “open borders” policy, that he’s just allowing unlimited numbers of undocumented immigrants to stroll in so they can take your job, assault your family and vote in the next election.

In fact, in most ways Biden’s border policies are pretty much what was in place when Donald Trump left office. Apprehensions at the Southwest border — i.e., people trying to come but being caught — even rose dramatically from 2020 to 2021.

Republicans can’t quite make sense of that contradiction, which gets you headlines such as “Biden migrant surge sets all-time record for most arrests at southern border” in the conservative Washington Times. How Biden is supposed to have simultaneously “opened” the border and arrested a record number of people trying to cross is left unexplained.

So could it be that Republicans don’t actually want a solution to the challenges of immigration policy?

If you haven’t seen a lot of news about the hard work congressional Republicans are putting in trying to solve this complex problem, that’s because they aren’t doing much of anything. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to pass immigration reform, and every time, they’ve killed it.

The basic outline of a deal has always been clear: Republicans would get beefed-up border enforcement, and Democrats would get a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Both are extremely popular with the public. But Republicans won’t even try anymore.

Instead, they prefer to chant “build the wall” and pull ludicrous stunts like putting migrants on buses, meant to appeal to their nativist base without accomplishing anything. Remember that the next time you hear them complain that it’s all Biden’s fault.