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Sending a signal

IN THE NEWS | Texas governor defies the feds as tensions escalate at Mexico border


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Eagle Pass to discuss border concerns. Eric Gay / AP

Sending a signal
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AMERICAN FLAGS flew from cars, trucks, and RVs painted with patriotic images and slogans like “the people demand to be heard” as the conservative caravan lumbered across Southern U.S. highways. Traveling roughly 2,000 miles, the Take Our Border Back convoy rolled out from Virginia Beach at the end of January and arrived in the rural Texas border town of Quemado several days later.

Trent Batten and his wife had piled into their Honda sedan and joined the convoy as it passed through Jacksonville, Fla. The 20-year Marine Corps veteran said he is tired of the perpetual crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. “It’s not fair to the people who have come here legally to just open the floodgates,” said Batten, 40. “It’s not fair to the people who have served our country.”

Batten and his wife are among the millions of Americans frustrated with the stream of thousands of migrants crossing the southern border each day. Many, fed up with President Joe Biden’s failure to slow the flow, have made Texas Gov. Greg Abbott their champion. While Congress remains in gridlock over immigration reform, Abbott has squared off with the federal government over border control efforts.

At a Feb. 4 press conference in the border town of Eagle Pass, Abbott pledged to expand his border security initiative in defiance of the Biden administration’s demands to leave border policy to the feds. Flanked by 13 other Republican governors, Abbott said Texas would establish control over ranch lands adjacent to the Rio Grande, following up on his previous move barring federal agents from Shelby Park, a city-owned site.

The Lone Star State has made previous headlines for passing a law allowing state and local law enforcement to arrest migrants who cross the border illegally. (The law is scheduled to take effect in March.) Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal border agents have the authority to cut through concertina wire erected by the state. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lambasted the decision, saying Texas state troopers would continue to put up the wire. Other immigration disputes between Texas and the federal government are making their way through federal courts.

Gov. Abbott has argued the state has a constitutional right to defend itself since the federal government refuses to crack down on illegal immigration. “All we’re doing is enforcing the laws of the United States of America,” he said at the Eagle Pass conference.

Calling themselves “God’s army,” leaders of the Take Our Border Back convoy say their goal is to support the Texas governor and inspire change at the border through prayer and revival. At a Feb. 1 rally outside of Austin, convoy organizer Robert Agee, wearing a cowboy hat and vest, praised Abbott’s enforcement efforts. “These elected officials … have not been doing that job,” Agee said from the stage. “Gov. Abbott? Ken Paxton? They have done a few things.” Hundreds of rallygoers cheered and clapped from picnic tables and folding chairs.

Participants arrive to attend the Take Our Border Back convoy rally outside of Austin.

Participants arrive to attend the Take Our Border Back convoy rally outside of Austin. Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images

“This is an extraordinary situation,” Kathleen Bush-Joseph, a lawyer and policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, said of Abbott’s policies. She called Texas’ challenge to the federal government’s authority over immigration “unprecedented.” The Supreme Court has affirmed that authority in many decisions, she noted, beginning with an 1849 case when the justices invalidated a tax on immigrant arrivals imposed by Massachusetts and New York. Recent decisions have echoed this precedent.

Elected officials in Washington appear unlikely to resolve the crisis soon. Although the Senate released the text of a $118 billion bipartisan legislative proposal for border reform and foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel the same day as Abbott’s press conference, Republican leaders in the House said the bill was too weak on border security to be taken seriously.

The state of Texas is sending a signal … to the Biden administration and saying, … ‘Why aren’t you on our side?’

Matt Eagan, director of federal affairs at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, believes resolving the situation at the border doesn’t require a new law. He pointed out that legislation did not change between the Trump and Biden administrations, even though levels of migrant crossings increased significantly.

“If you wanted to end the crisis, you can do it today, unilaterally, through the implementation of the same executive actions that Donald Trump did when he was president,” Eagan said.

Without some type of resolution, tensions between Texas and the federal government will likely continue to flare. Victor Avila, a former special agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, spoke at the convoy rally in Austin as the Central Texas sun sank behind the trees. Avila, who is running for Congress as a Republican, told WORLD he fully supports Abbott’s efforts.

“The state of Texas is sending a signal,” he said. “It’s not about the razor wire. It’s not about the seizing of that property at Shelby Park. It’s about a symbol, sending it to the Biden administration and saying, … ‘Why aren’t you on our side?’”

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