Jun 29, 2022 - Politics

Migrant tragedy underscores border policy divide

Emergency vehicles at the scene where a tractor-trailer was discovered with migrants inside. Photo: Sergio Flores via Getty Images

The deaths of more than 50 migrants in San Antonio have already become political.

Driving the news: Gov. Greg Abbott, who has made immigration a focal point of his re-election campaign, blamed President Biden within hours of the tragedy on Monday, tweeting that the deaths "are a result of his deadly open border policies."

The other side: Biden fired off a response Tuesday.

  • "Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers," he said.

Between the lines: While the federal government is in charge of Texas-Mexico border security, Abbott has tried to claim the mantle of border czar, directing billions from Texas' coffers toward law enforcement efforts.

  • Those efforts did not prevent a humanitarian tragedy within Texas' borders, and now he is pointing fingers at Biden.

Catch up quick: Accusing the federal government of inaction, Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021 to boost protection of the southern border from drug smugglers and people illegally crossing.

  • The Texas Legislature dedicated nearly $2 billion toward the plan, tripling the amount the state spends on border security.
  • The state later shifted nearly $500 million away from other agencies, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, to help pay for the Texas National Guard deployment after costs exceeded what the Legislature had approved.
  • But National Guard troops have called the operation a disaster, and lawyers for arrested migrants have accused the state of due-process violations, per reporting in the Texas Tribune.
  • On Tuesday, Abbott announced the National Guard had launched the "Border River Mission" to prevent illegal immigration.

What they're saying: Immigration experts and advocates argued that Abbott's claim of an open border is inaccurate, and point out that some of former President Trump's signature border policies are intact.

  • Biden was forced by court order to restart a Trump-era COVID policy known as Title 42, allowing authorities to continue to expel migrants while their cases are considered in the U.S.
  • "With the border shut as tightly as it is today for migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, people have been pushed into more and more dangerous routes. Truck smuggling is way up," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director for the advocacy group American Immigration Council, told the Houston Chronicle.

Meanwhile: "This is devastating," Democratic nominee for governor Beto O'Rourke wrote. "Our thoughts go out to the families of those who lost their lives in San Antonio today."

  • "We need urgent action — dismantle human smuggling rings and replace them with expanded avenues for legal migration that reflect our values and meet our country's needs."

The bottom line: When tragedy strikes — see Uvalde — politicians often make it political.


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