Border security has been one of the prime red meat issues that Governor Greg Abbott has fed to his Republican base for the past three years. He ordered the state patrol to beef up operations along the border, and shortly before President Trump was elected, the Texas Department of Public Safety changed its policy from “catch and release” to turning undocumented immigrants over to Border Patrol. Abbott pressed the Legislature into approving more than $1.6 billion in border security funding, and he won passage of a sanctuary cities bill to force local officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. And when President Trump wanted troops on the border, Abbott was swift to send the National Guard.
But this week Abbott outsmarted himself. He got into the position of supporting Trump on the incarceration of asylum-seekers and the separation of their children. More than two thousand children have been removed from their families, and no one is certain that they can be reunited. Like Trump, Abbott blamed Democrats and Congress for the crisis. By Wednesday, the president had undermined Abbott’s position, and by Thursday, the Democrats were not letting Abbott live it down.
Abbott’s week played out like a politician seeking shelter from a storm. At last weekend’s Republican Party of Texas Convention in San Antonio, he promoted his border security efforts but never mentioned the childhood separations. But reporters who interviewed him for a Sunday program on the Dallas NBC station got him to say this:
“Well, listen, this is horrible and it rips everybody’s heart apart about what is going on. The president actually was talking about it this morning. Even he was ripped apart about what is going on. He was adamant, he said, ‘Listen, if the Democrats would agree with him right now, they could pass a law today that would end the ripping apart of these families, and make the border secure.’ ”
The governor followed that up on Tuesday with a letter to the Texas congressional delegation—Republican and Democrat—saying that only they could solve the family separation crisis at the border. The tone of the letter was that Abbott was not going to take the fall for the border crisis.
“This disgraceful condition must end; and it can only end with action by Congress to reform the broken immigration system. The executive and judicial branches have exhausted the limits of their authority to patch up our flawed immigration laws. Now, the only remaining path is the one provided by the Constitution: the legislative path.”
The most consistent thing about Trump is that he is like the Texas weather—wait a day and the weather will change. So will Trump’s policy.
As Abbott’s “only remaining path” letter winged its way to the Texas congressional delegation, Trump reversed himself and signed an executive order on Wednesday to end the family separations. That came from that pesky executive branch that had “exhausted” the limit of its authority. With a stroke of his pen, Trump reversed much of his “zero tolerance” policy that had resulted in the separation of parents seeking asylum who entered the country illegally from their children while being held in detention. “We’re going to have strong—very strong—borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” the president said. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
Texas congressional Democrats were not about to let Abbott get a pass. They responded to his letter with one of their own on Thursday:
Although it is refreshing to hear from you after so many months of silence from your office on issues critical to our state and our nation, including NAFTA, the border wall, the separation of children and families, and the constant verbal assault on immigrants and refugees from the White House, we take great issue with the tone and content of your letter.
It is disappointing to see our governor make the reckless and baseless assertion that it is our Texas Democratic Caucus who is refusing to take action on these issues or participate in crafting practical solutions.
The caucus said Republican “compromise” legislation on immigration reform was only a compromise among Republicans and did not have bipartisan input from Democrats. The letter said the Democrats “anxiously await them [Republicans] joining us to do the right thing.”
The letter was signed by U.S. representatives Henry Cuellar, Vicente González, Al Green, Beto O’Rourke, Sheila Jackson Lee, Joaquín Castro, Gene Green, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Marc Veasey, and Filemón Vela.
Meanwhile, in Fort Worth awaiting the start of the Texas Democratic Convention, party gubernatorial nominee Lupe Valdez also took shots at Trump’s policy and flip-flopping: “Trump and his administration have tried all kinds of things to explain the inhumanity. ‘It’s our policy and it deters illegal crossing.’ ‘It’s not our policy.’ ‘It’s a law, and we’re only enforcing it.’ ‘It’s the Bible.’ ‘It’s the Democrats; it’s Congress.’ ‘Oh, wait, now; we aren’t separating children anymore.’ Who can trust this continual change? Yesterday, with the executive orders. Trump basically admitted it was his own policy and he does have the power to end it all, but it was all smoke and mirrors, not a real solution to the problem.”
In the name of fair play, I emailed both the governor’s official media office and his campaign seeking a response. Crickets.