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Opinion Abbott’s plan to humiliate the weak instead dupes Texas taxpayers

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) at a news conference on April 6 in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor/AP)
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s election-year scheme to bus migrants to Washington has driven itself into a ditch.

Three weeks ago, the Republican announced, along with his ill-fated plan to inspect all vehicles entering Texas from Mexico, his intention to reduce the state’s “hordes of illegal immigrants” by shipping them to the nation’s capital.

“To help local officials whose communities are being overwhelmed,” Abbott said, “… Texas is providing charter buses to send these illegal immigrants, who have been dropped off by the Biden administration, to Washington, D.C. … where the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people they are allowing to come across our border.”

In a cruel twist, Texas then refused to tell the federal government, D.C. authorities or nonprofits when the buses would arrive — the better to inflict maximum suffering on the most vulnerable by forcing them to wander, lost and penniless, in a strange city.

The stunt is part of a fortune in Texas taxpayer money that Abbott is spending for the benefit of his gubernatorial reelection campaign and potential presidential bid. He had to rescind his vehicle inspection plan after it caused massive backups, inflicted billions of dollars in trade losses and resulted in not a single drug arrest. His positioning of the Texas National Guard on the border has, tragically, turned deadly.

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Now the busing plan is proving to be a bust. At this writing, only 11 mostly empty buses (they can hold up to 45 but have arrived with as few as nine migrants and average fewer than 18) have made it from Texas, immigration advocates report. Two more half-full buses departed Texas for D.C. on Monday. Of the 195 migrants who have arrived, 85 percent quickly moved on to other destinations, often to meet family; they were merely hitching a free ride at Texas taxpayers’ expense.

Abbott’s buses, intended to send a “clear message” to the federal government, have achieved no such thing. They haven’t had any impact on President Biden, nor on said government, nor even on local authorities. Instead, volunteers with nonprofits such as Catholic Charities, Sanctuary DMV and the Central American Resource Center, known as Carecen, anonymously tipped off when the buses depart Texas, have been on hand to meet the migrants and get them the help they need.

Fox News and other right-wing media, after trumpeting Abbott’s scheme, have gone quiet on the bus debacle. Even Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post observed last week that “the transports are hardly bursting at the seams.” Abbott is now seeking private donations to defray the cost of his bus boondoggle.

Asked about the low number of migrants sent to D.C., Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said, “A large majority of communities that originally reached out for support through this operation said the federal government stopped dropping migrants in their towns.”

“It wasn’t what he expected,” Abel Nuñez, executive director of Carecen, told me. “He thought people might wander over to the Capitol. It didn’t happen. ”

Nuñez said his group needs more contributions so it can buy the arriving migrants onward tickets from D.C., but otherwise, the nonprofits have been able to handle the small number of arrivals. “If Abbott wants to give them a free ride to their family here, I don’t think anyone’s going to mind. If the Texas taxpayer wants to continue to allow Abbott to do this, I’d just ask them to coordinate so we could do this in not a mean-spirited way.”

Migrants can’t be put on the buses against their will (Texas isn’t a totalitarian state — yet) for the roughly 30-hour ride to D.C., where they are dumped at Union Station. The volunteers in the capital have been using National Community Church and Union Station itself as makeshift respite centers for the migrants, mostly from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Angola and Congo. They entered illegally and are on 60-day parole, during which time they can submit asylum applications. The migrants have been given Samsung devices that U.S. authorities use to track them, Nuñez said; they cannot be used for phone calls or Web surfing, as Republican lawmakers have claimed.

If the Biden administration, as planned, allows the pandemic-motivated pause on accepting Central American immigrants to expire next month, Abbott could find many more takers for his free bus rides to D.C. and an even greater drain on the state treasury. But Nuñez said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, because of Abbott’s stunt, is now allowing immigrant-assistance funds to go to Washington (which, it stands to reason, means less for Texas). Immigration advocates in the D.C. area are hoping the money will allow them to open a local shelter for immigrants.

Everybody wins, it seems — except for the hard-working Texas taxpayers, turned into patsies by their governor’s personal ambition.