Elections 2022Immigration & BorderIllegal Immigration, Border Security Take Center Stage in Texas’ Gubernatorial Race

With illegal border crossings spiking, both incumbent and challengers in the Texas gubernatorial GOP primary are focusing their efforts and rhetoric on the issue.
June 30, 2021
The 2022 GOP gubernatorial primary is still about a year away, but its key issue might have already been cemented. Illegal immigration and the border have received more airtime from politicians in the last month than throughout much of the last two years.

And it’s not unwarranted attention, either.

Illegal border crossing apprehensions in the last three months — averaging roughly 177,000 per month — have been substantially higher than at any point in the last four years. Exempting May 2019, the numbers far surpass the apprehension levels in any month since 2018.

It is often said that drug cartels have “operational control of the border” smuggling drugs and human beings while severely stretching border patrol and local law enforcement resources. With that control comes a burgeoning level of general violence.

Since the completion of the legislative session, Governor Greg Abbott has heightened his focus on the issue — declaring a state of disaster in Texas border counties, partnering with Arizona in a border security pact, and initiating plans to construct a wall across the southern border.

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Under Abbott’s plan, financing of the border wall construction will begin with a $250 million “down payment” from the state followed by a crowdfunding campaign to which the public at large can donate.

That’s on top of the increased National Guard and Department of Public Safety presence from March dubbed “Operation Lone Star” — quite similar to the deployment ordered by Abbott almost exactly two years ago as apprehension numbers began to spike.

“By declaring a state of disaster in these counties, Texas will have more resources and strategies at our disposal to protect landowners and enforce all federal and state laws to combat criminal activities stemming from the border crisis,” Abbott said upon issuing the declaration.

But these moves haven’t occurred in a vacuum.

Since May, Abbott has faced something he hasn’t in his nearly 30-year political career: a serious and well-funded primary opponent.

Former state Senator Don Huffines jumped into the race in May after a year of antagonism as Abbott issued statewide lockdown orders and mask mandates and tried to steer the state through a pandemic the likes of which hadn’t been felt in a century.

When announcing, Huffines made clear that border security was near the top of his priority list, if not at its zenith — including “finish[ing] the wall.” And that focus has continued in nearly every interview Huffines has conducted since.

Where Abbott points blame for the current state of illegal immigration to President Joe Biden, Huffines directs it toward his opponent.

“Greg Abbott has been governor of Texas for over six years and the border is more open today than at any time in history,” he said in response to Abbott’s border wall announcement. 

Reacting to the governor’s border security orders, Huffines said, “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.”

And last week, Huffines released another border-focused statement, saying, “Greg Abbott stole my campaign’s idea to build a wall along the Texas-Mexico border.” 

“Unfortunately, Abbott’s plan to build a border wall is not sufficient,” he added, criticizing the crowdfunding nature of Abbott’s border wall plan.

Abbott has not responded to Huffines’ prodding directly, much less acknowledged his candidacy, but some of the latter’s proddings have become policy — such is the advantage of incumbency.

The Texas governor also managed to get one over on his opponent, who’s tried to fashion himself as the “Trump candidate,” by securing the endorsement of former President Donald Trump for his re-election run — the most sought-after endorsement in current GOP politics.

The former president’s endorsement came just hours after Abbott unveiled the bones of his border wall plan — and the pair is set to visit the border together this week.

“I am proud of the work we have done together to secure our border, bring more jobs to Texas, and protect the freedoms that make America and Texas great — and we are just getting started,” Abbott said of the endorsement.

Huffines responded in kind, touting his past financial and political support for Trump, saying, “I am the clear Trump candidate in the race. Governor Abbott is unable to say the same and actively worked against President Trump on the most critical issue facing Texas: the southern border.”

In 2019, Abbott avoided Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s calls for Texas to assist the federal government with construction of the wall. 

“It’s a hypothetical with no conclusion because the federal government is not stepping up and funding border security and so it’s a circular argument because we’re all just waiting around for the federal government and Congress to do its job, to appropriate funding, to secure our border and our state,” Abbott said at the time.

By consuming much of the rhetorical oxygen, border security has so far drowned out other issues like executive powers, the power grid’s reliability, and property taxation. With such a long way to go, the border issue will need abundant kindling to maintain its current state of prominence in Texas’ gubernatorial race — but if the last three months are any indication, it will not fade away.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.