For months, border apprehensions have risen to record levels. More and more state resources have been directed to the border including a $1.8 billion supplemental appropriation during the second special session.
As the latest episode in Texas’ border disaster worsened, the federal government began rapidly deporting Haitian illegal aliens from Del Rio back to their home country. This spurred portions to cross back over the river into Mexico. Others have been taken into custody for deportation, and there was even an escape attempt on Tuesday that involved an attack on border guards.
Already a focal point of the GOP gubernatorial primary, the border crisis has drowned out everything else. Since the end of the regular legislative session, Governor Greg Abbott has taken a handful of trips to the border and focused substantial attention on the issue. His opponents have frequented the border even more and turned up the criticism of the incumbent’s efforts.
After his inauguration, President Biden issued a flurry of immigration-related orders, including canceling border wall construction and pausing deportations. In doing so, he whiplashed the federal government away from the crackdown on illegal immigration Trump had enacted.
The message was that Biden and his administration would be more welcoming of immigrants — whether they entered legally or illegally. Haitians who were deported to their impoverished country were reportedly shocked and even felt betrayed by Biden.
The governor has spent this year implementing his own border security strategy, including an operation led by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) — Operation Lone Star — to deter illegal crossings and apprehend people who commit state-level criminal violations.
In an email to The Texan, DPS Press Secretary Ericka Miller wrote, “So far, during Operation Lone Star, DPS has made more than 5,627 criminal arrests and more than 66,400 migrant apprehensions and referrals. There have been 711 vehicle pursuits. These numbers are through September 9.”
The operation includes deployment of roughly 1,000 Texas National Guard troops — a fraction of its total force of approximately 20,000. About 1,000 DPS “troopers, rangers, and special agents” are deployed to the border, according to Miller.
In a letter to President Biden last week, Abbott noted that Texas has spent $3.5 billion on securing the border since 2014 and that the state legislature tripled funding and then some with $3 billion allotted for the current biennium.
One of Abbott’s main responses to the rapid influx of illegal crossings is pushing the construction of a state-subsidized border wall after the Biden administration halted the Trump administration’s plans. Abbott was endorsed by Trump back in June. Part of that plan is to crowdfund a portion of the costs, a fund which totals $54 million raised to date.
At a press conference in Del Rio on Tuesday, Abbott declared that sector secure after “surging state resources” to the area.
Abbott’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
“I have never seen a situation like this and during my 22 years of service in the U.S. military I remember as a young lieutenant doing border patrol operations in Turkey against the Bulgarian border before the fall of the Iron Curtain,” former Texas GOP Chair Allen West told The Texan.
A retired Lt. Colonel from the U.S. Army, West was elected to the U.S. House in Florida in 2010, riding in on the Tea Party wave. In 2020, he was elected chairman of the Texas GOP and served until he resigned in June of this year, announcing his run for the governor’s mansion on Independence Day.
West’s four campaign planks on the issue include deploying the 26,000-man National Guard more substantially, giving state and local law enforcement the ability to arrest, detain, and deport illegal immigrants for illegal crossings and not just trespassing, tax the financial remittances illegal immigrants send back to their home countries, and to designate the Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.
Even as Abbott has advanced Operation Lone Star and declared illegal immigration to be a disaster, the governor has sought to avoid breaching the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona v. United States, in which the Grand Canyon State was barred from enforcing certain portions of a state law designed to criminalize illegal immigration.
Like Huffines, West believes the state should invoke Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution.
“First, I would take action and not be writing letters to the federal government asking them for emergency declarations nor going on television asking the president to notice me or take notice of the situation,” West said.
When asked about the Texas border wall, West scoffed.
“Governor Greg Abbott is talking about a chain link fence.”
“A chain link fence is not going to stop illegal immigration, especially if you’re not employing ground surveillance sensors, if you’re not employing any type of ground troops,” he said, preferring an “integrated border security system.”
Part of that integrated system, West proffered, is allowing local law enforcement to deputize others to help fill their gap in resources.
“People are frustrated, and people are terrified,” West said of his observations during border trips, adding, “They see the federal government, and now the state government, not doing anything except for sending out notices that you can apply for grants or sending letters asking for an emergency to be declared.”
“The people down here know that they’re in an emergency situation — they don’t need anyone else to declare it for them.”
When Abbott announced his state-funded border wall project, Huffines, a former state senator who served on the Veteran Affairs & Border Security Committee, was not impressed.
“I would like to thank ‘all talk, no action’ Greg Abbott for joining my campaign by admitting that as governor he’s had the power for the last seven years to close down the Texas border, and has refused to do so,” Huffines said in a press release after Abbott announced the Texas wall.
Earlier in the race, Huffines had gained the endorsement of Mayor Don McLaughlin of the border town of Uvalde.
Huffines supports construction of the border wall and believes it should be made a financial priority, contending there will be a return on investment due to what illegal immigration costs Texas. For example, the expense of “how many illegals are in our school system.”
“There’s no other way to define it. We’re being invaded. I do believe this is a premeditated attack on Texas. It’s an orchestrated attack on Texas,” Huffines told The Texan.
Huffines said he has visited the border three times in the last 90 days and visited with law enforcement about the violence they have witnessed.
Huffines points to Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, which states, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”
He contends the State of Texas is being invaded and is in imminent danger and the state should respond accordingly.
Huffines has made it a mantra of his campaign that he will “never ask permission from the federal government to secure the Texas border.”
When asked how it would play out if he took the assertive border security measures he advocates only to be told to stand down by the federal government, Huffines said he would be “willing to take the call or ignore the call.”
“I think the optics would be terrible for the federal government, no matter who’s in office,” Huffines contended. “I don’t think that Americans want to see the federal government forcibly making Texas stand down with our military to let in hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants into the country, or into Texas.”
The candidate emphasized he is “not interested in negotiating” on border security and that he is “interested in winning, and saving Texas and the United States in the process.”
“It’s a humanitarian crisis, there’s no doubt about it,” BlazeTV host Chad Prather told The Texan.
“What I’m seeing that’s bugging me today is how the media’s spinning this, trying to make the Hatian situation look like the Texas troopers there defending the border are denying people their human needs — that’s simply not true.”
He continued, “When you have tens of thousands of migrants coming to the border, these communities have tried to help and are overwhelmed.”
Prather’s top priorities as governor would be to enforce the laws already in place, disincentivize migration, and preserve our borders and sovereignty.
To accomplish the first item, Prather said Texas law enforcement needs to be able to detect, detain, and deport the illegal immigrants. Currently, those officials are only able to make arrests for trespassing.
“It’s like the old Motel 6 commercials — the ‘we’ll leave the light on for you’ slogan — we’ve really left the light on for these migrants with the magnets,” he noted on the second item. “There’s this idea that if they come here, they’re going to get the healthcare, the welfare, the education, and the housing and we have to turn those lights off.”
And on the final item, Prather said he is in favor of a physical barrier but there must be a human barrier, i.e a higher troop presence, to accompany it.
Prather was critical of Operation Lone Star, the state’s foremost effort on its southern border. He said, “The fact of the matter is that it’s a lot of talk and…if you’re not deploying them, it doesn’t do very much good.”
On Mexico’s role in quelling the border turmoil, Prather echoed the need to put economic pressure on our southern neighbors. By threatening commerce, Prather believes those large companies that ship goods across the border would “turn up the pressure” on the Mexican government to police its side of the Rio Grande.
Prather contrasted himself, however, with Huffines’ plan to close all state roads at the 25 bridges over the Rio Grande to all commercial traffic. “I think we’re hurting ourselves as well as legal trade with the people of Mexico. We’re hurting our own commerce by doing that.”
But Prather added that he’s glad to have Huffines and West in the race, suggesting an “anyone but Abbott” philosophy and turning the issue back to the incumbent — the ultimate reason he’s in the race in the first place.
“Look, we’ve got to do something and I just don’t see Abbott enforcing the law,” Prather added, “and it’s time to take things into our own hands.”
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.