Greg Abbott is pushing Texas to the brink

Texas governor pushes on immigration, caring little about the law or the people he hurts in the name of politics

By Brian Karem


Published January 22, 2024 5:45AM (EST)

Greg Abbott (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Greg Abbott (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

To rule is easy, to govern difficult

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

At the end of the day, you have to wonder if Texans are comfortable being a part of the United States.

I’m not just talking about the Dallas Cowboys, who have choked so often in the NFL playoffs that they need the Heimlich maneuver when they step on the field, particularly at home against the Green Bay Packers. I mean, in general, you have to question it.

Governor “Hey, Abbott!” – with apologies to Lou Costello – Greg Abbott is certainly among those who think that Texas is still its own country. He has stood stupidly defiant against the federal government for the last few months on the issue of Southern border security and kept the Border Patrol from doing its job while claiming the state of Texas has the right to defend its “sovereignty.”  

Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” has bused more than 35,000 immigrants to Washington, D.C, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles since April of 2022. He claims that the operation “continues to fill the dangerous gaps created by the Biden administration’s refusal to secure the border.” More on that in a moment.

Now Abbott seems to be making the case for going it alone again in the Lone Star state.

Two of my sons were born in Texas, and I am often reminded that anyone can become an American, but you have to be born a Texan. I used to think that was cute and funny – like the businessman I knew in the early 90s whose wife went into premature labor while they were visiting New York. He had a San Antonio neighbor overnight him 10 pounds of dirt from his backyard that he then placed into a container, so when his son was born he could legitimately say his son’s ass first touched Texas soil. Turns out, what I find cute and funny is deadly serious in Texas. They take their state pride seriously – even if there are (or once were) a sizable number of people in Texas who don’t support much of the lunacy from the state’s Republican Party. When it comes to Texas, they still fully believe they live in their own country. 

As recently as December, Newsweek reported on a strong separatist movement in the Lone Star state. The Texas Nationalist Movement, an organization that supports Texas' independence from the U.S., warned the GOP they have enough signatures to force a vote on the question of whether Texans support secession. Texas nationalists have for years pushed for a referendum on Texas secession, despite the fact there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution for a state to do so. Of course, that hasn’t kept the wildly independent Texans from doing whatever they want. The state first seceded from Mexico in 1836 and spent nine years as its own nation (remember the Alamo!) before it became the 28th U.S. state on Dec. 29, 1845. Texas also seceded from the U.S. in 1861 before being readmitted following the end of the Civil War.

Now Abbott seems to be making the case for going it alone again in the Lone Star state. There’s little practical chance of that, however. The federal government owns and operates 15 military bases in the state with an economic impact of more than $100 billion. San Antonio alone has four bases, with others being scattered from Corpus Christi to El Paso, and other points north and south throughout the state.

Still, it’s a touchy subject for Abbott. I tried all this week to get someone to speak to the issue in the governor’s office. My emails were ignored and when I finally reached someone by phone in Abbott’s press office, they hung up on me. Nothing like transparency in Texas. But, this isn’t unusual, I once got thrown out of the Texas Senate for asking a senator to move so my station’s news photographer could get a better shot. Texans can be arrogant and ignorant - and in government they are often that way all the time. 

The Biden administration is deeply frustrated with Abbott’s moves – and while he continues to play politics with a very serious issue, the federal government – including the U.S. Border Patrol which is far from a bastion of liberals – has tried to get Abbott and Texas to see reason. The general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security recently sent state officials a letter, portions of which read, “Texas’s actions are clearly unconstitutional and are actively disrupting the federal government’s operations. We demand that Texas cease and desist its efforts to block Border Patrol’s access in and around the Shelby Park area and remove all barriers to access in the Shelby Park area,” of Eagle Pass.

DHS gave Texas until January 17 to “cease and desist” its efforts to block the Border Patrol’s access to the park and to remove all barriers to access to the U.S. – Mexico border before referring the matter to the Department of Justice “for appropriate action and (to) consider all other options available to restore Border Patrol’s access to the Border.”

Sounds ominous, but what other options are there? Abbott certainly doesn’t think the Border Patrol will fire upon Texas law enforcement working the border, does he? No rational human being thinks so. That would be disastrous, and yet, we are still at a tipping point in Texas. God only knows what the lunatics may do - and there are plenty of gun-happy lunatics in Texas.

During the 80s I was assigned to cover a story when members of the KKK showed up on the border after President Reagan claimed godless Sandinistas were just a two-hour plane ride away from our southern border. There were many guns on the border on that day. And Texans, of course, love to take matters into their own hands. There’s a long history of that.

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As the current drama in Texas was playing out, The Hill reported, “The House on Wednesday approved a resolution condemning the Biden administration’s border and immigration policies, a move by GOP lawmakers to maintain pressure on the politically polarizing issue in the weeks ahead. The legislation pins the blame on President Biden’s “open-border policies”, highlighting the stark partisanship behind immigration and border policy. It passed 225-187, with 14 Democrats voting in favor.”

The Biden administration has angrily accused the GOP of duplicity, noting that Biden has proposed reforms to immigration that include hiring more Border Patrol agents, but the GOP has refused to take up the issue. Of course, it’s hard to get the GOP to do anything in Congress – they can barely pass legislation for funding the government.

On Wednesday, Biden met with members of Congress to talk about additional funding for Ukraine – something GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson said is linked to immigration reform. After the meeting, Biden was asked – as he walked to Marine One on the South Lawn  - what the sticking points were on immigration reform. Biden said, “I don’t think we have any sticking points left.”

When Johnson and other members of Congress came out to the sticks on the North Lawn to talk to reporters, Johnson shut the door on “comprehensive immigration reform,” telling reporters, “I don’t think now is the time for comprehensive immigration reform, because we know how complicated that is.”

Of course, there won’t be reform – it would ruin the GOP’s chances to run on that issue if they solved the problem. This is a true do-nothing Congress. The GOP doesn’t want to solve problems – it wants to blame Democrats for problems in order to get elected. 

You’ve got a better chance of the Dallas Cowboys winning the Superbowl than finding any common sense in Congress as Republicans continue to speak out of both sides of their mouth. While Johnson said there obviously won’t be any long term reform he also said, “We must insist that the border be the top priority. I think we have some consensus around the table. Everyone understands the urgency of that.” Try to wrap your mind around that lack of logic.

Senator Chuck Schumer saw things differently. He told reporters, “We also talked about the border and how it's so important to deal with the border. The President himself said over and over again that he is willing to move forward on the border. And so we said we have to do both. There were a couple of people in the room that said let's do the border first. We said we have to do both together.”

The response in Texas?

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Texas authorities arrested migrants at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas, late Wednesday evening and charged them with criminal trespassing, marking the first arrests of migrants since the state took control of the area at the US-Mexico border last week, an official said. In response to the federal government’s cease-and-desist letter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton admitted that Border Patrol has “warrantless access to land within 25 miles of the border, but only ‘for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States.’”

Texas is inching closer to a confrontation and a clash that can never occur and both sides do not want to recognize the root cause of the problem: American politics.

Illegal immigration has been a problem for nearly half a century because of the Mexican oil economy crash in the 70s as well as the US demand for cheap labor and cheap drugs. In the 1980s the US, during the Reagan administration, made some steps toward solving the problem, but there has been nothing done since then by both political parties. The truth is Big Business wants and demands cheap labor – as do most Americans. No one wants to pay $10 for a tomato, and the demand for cocaine, heroin and even fentanyl remains huge, so Big Business holds up a welcome sign while politicians act disingenuously about solving a problem they all had a part in creating. 

Thus, Abbott is willing and able to use the poor and downtrodden to skewer Democrats by saying immigrants are lazy and living off of the welfare state, while at the same time claiming they take all of the jobs. The Christian Republicans scream the loudest about this – ignoring the teachings of the Jesus they claim to worship and ignoring the fact that the nation was built by immigrants - or as Bill Murray reminded us in Stripes, “We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts!” And those that weren’t immigrants were brought here as slaves, but that’s another issue.

American hypocrisy has never been so evident as in how we deal with new arrivals to our shores.

Protect our borders from caravans of foreign illegal immigrants? When Native American tribes tried to stem the tide of illegal immigration it didn’t go so well – and it won’t go well for us now either.

Friday, top U.S. and Mexican officials met in Washington to discuss strengthening cooperation and continuity in addressing the migration issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. This occurred as several Border Patrol sectors on the Southern Border, including Tucson and parts of Texas are reporting a decline in illegal immigration during the last few weeks. The decline is widely attributed to Mexican government efforts, and while the Biden administration wasn’t promising anything concrete from the Friday meetings, they were “cautiously optimistic,” that things will continue to get better on the border.

“That’s the irony of the Texas situation,” a Biden official told me on background. “They’re doing this when the numbers are relatively low.”

This matters little in the world of politics today. 

Maybe at the end of the day, the federal government ought to send in Matt LeFleur and the Green Bay Packers. Governor Abbott wouldn’t stand a chance. Like the Dallas Cowboys, he’s all hat and no cattle

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Border Patrol Commentary Dhs Gop Greg Abbott Immigration Migrants Republicans Secession Texas