As Texas buses migrants to D.C., Abbott faces backlash for chaos at the border

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The first bus of migrants from Texas’ southern border arrived in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning, one week after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to send migrants to the nation’s capital. in protest of President Biden’s immigration policies. However, despite Abbott’s pledge to deliver the migrants to “the steps of the United States Capitol,” they were reportedly dropped off nearby, outside Fox News’ D.C. bureau.

According to CNN, at least five of the migrants who disembarked in D.C. Wednesday said they were asylum seekers from Venezuela. They said they’d arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday, where they were processed by federal authorities and then released from custody while their cases make their way through the immigration court system. After they were released, the migrants said they were offered a voluntary bus ride to Washington.

“Biden refuses to come see the mess he’s made at the border,” Abbott posted on Twitter, along with a link to a Fox News story about the bus’s arrival. “So Texas is bringing the border to him.”

But back in Texas, the Republican governor was the one being blamed by local officials and business leaders for creating the latest border chaos.

In addition to transporting migrants to Washington — which Abbott’s office clarified would be done on a voluntary basis, after the migrants have been processed and released by the Department of Homeland Security — the governor announced last week that he had ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to begin enhanced public safety inspections for commercial vehicles entering Texas from Mexico.

Both moves were part of what the governor’s office described as “the first in a series of aggressive actions by the State of Texas to secure the border in the wake of President Biden's decision to end Title 42 expulsions.” Title 42 refers to an emergency public health order that has allowed authorities to turn away most migrants at the border since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security has said it is bracing for a likely surge in illegal migration at the southern border, ahead of the Biden administration’s plan to lift Title 42 restrictions next month.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks into a microphone.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott answers questions at a press conference at the Department of Public Safety on April 6 in Weslaco, Texas. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)

While Abbott explained that the enhanced inspections were intended to prevent “a significant rise in cartel-facilitated smuggling via unsafe vehicles upon the end of Title 42 expulsions,” he warned that it would likely “dramatically slow” traffic across the border — prompting immediate concerns for truckers, business leaders and local officials about the economic impact of this new directive.

According to the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development at Texas A&M International University, nearly $442 billion in trade between the U.S. and Mexico flowed through international ports of entry in Texas in 2021.

One week later, those concerns appear to have been warranted. On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a fact sheet stating that “unnecessary inspections being conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) at the order of the Governor of Texas” were causing “lengthy delays” for trucks along the Texas-Mexico border, “with wait times at some border crossings exceeding five hours and commercial traffic dropping by as much as 60 percent.”

At some border crossings, protests by Mexican truckers against the new security measures have brought traffic to a halt. That was the case on Monday along the international bridge between Pharr, Texas, and Reynosa, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which, according to the Texas Tribune, “is the busiest trade crossing in the Rio Grande Valley and handles the majority of the produce that crosses into the U.S. from Mexico, including avocados, broccoli, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes.”

By Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News reported that, according to Dante Galeazzi, CEO and president of the Texas Independent Producers Association, the logjam had stalled $30 million in fresh produce in traffic over the border.

“Local trade associations, officials, and businesses are requesting the Texas state government discontinue their additional border truck inspection process, because it is not necessary to protect the safety and security of Texas communities and is resulting in significant impacts to local supply chains that will impact consumers and businesses nationally,” the CBP fact sheet noted.

Asylum seekers from Cuba wearing masks and warm jackets sit on the dirt, with others standing.
Asylum seekers from Cuba gather around a fire they made in Yuma, Ariz., to warm themselves from items other migrants left behind, such as shoes, clothes and trash, on Feb. 22. (Katie McTiernan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Among those calling for Abbott to stop the additional inspections is Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a Republican, who called the measures “political theater” in an open letter addressed to the governor.

“Your inspection protocol is not stopping illegal immigration,” Miller wrote. “It is stopping food from getting to grocery store shelves and in many cases causing food to rot in trucks — many of which are owned by Texas and other American companies. … The people of Texas deserve better!”

Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic challenger in the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election, echoed Miller’s comments at a press conference in Pharr on Tuesday, saying that the crackdown on commercial trucks "is killing businesses and the Texas economy."

"It's going to be very bad for the Texas economy. It's going to be very bad for the national economy," said O'Rourke, who also recently joined the growing chorus of Democrats who’ve criticized the Biden administration’s decision to lift Title 42 without outlining a clear plan to address a potential migrant surge.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement Wednesday calling the inspections ordered by Abbott “unnecessary and redundant” and stating that “Governor Abbott’s actions are impacting people’s jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families.”

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the first group of migrants to accept a state-sponsored ride from Texas was being greeted by immigration advocates, who helped them get bus tickets to their final destinations in Miami and other cities, where they are expected to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While advocates condemned the stunt as dehumanizing, some noted that Abbott had unintentionally done some good in the process.

"Advocates have long called on state and local governments to support migrants who need assistance getting to their ultimate destination, so ironically, the bussing plan is halfway to a good idea,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group, told Yahoo News.

Still, Reichlin-Melnick said it was clear the plan was "nothing more than a political stunt," and accused Abbott, who is up for re-election, of "attempting to weaponize migrants for political gain."

“Asylum seekers are people," he said. "They're not pawns in some politician's reelection.”