Crime

Following Paxton’s Lead, Texas Republicans Lose It Over Bexar County Sheriff's Migrant Plane Probe

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had dozens of migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had dozens of migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard. Thomas Woodtli from Zürich, Switzerland, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
When the Bexar County sheriff held a livestream press conference on Monday, he didn’t hold back from letting everyone know he was angry. In fact, he said he was “furious” over a stunt last week that saw dozens of migrants recruited from Texas and shipped to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

On Monday, the sheriff’s office opened an investigation into the incident. Now, Republican politicians and conservative media figures around the country, including many in Texas, are lashing out at Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.

The stunt had been orchestrated on behalf of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who later boasted that he’d had 48 migrants flown to his state and then on to Martha’s Vineyard.

“Immigrants have been more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless and ‘left to fend for themselves,’” the governor’s spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesperson said Florida had afforded the migrants “an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected.”

When Salazar announced his office had opened an investigation into the incident, he said he believed the migrants had been “preyed upon” and “hoodwinked” for the sake of “political posturing.”

In short, the migrants had been misled, explained Salazar, who is a Democrat.

On Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton kicked off a wave of anger directed at Salazar, accusing him of “political grandstanding” and suggesting the investigation itself was “unlawful.” Paxton didn't explain how or why such an investigation would violate the law.

But it wasn’t just Paxton. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, a former White House physician and hardline Republican, called Salazar a “disgrace” on Twitter.
In his typically unhinged posting style, Jackson continued: “Crime is rampant at our southern border, and his number one concern is trying to get his name in the press by going after Ron DeSantis. Democrats think GOP governors are a bigger THREAT than the cartels. Salazar should RESIGN!!”

Speaking to Glenn Beck on BlazeTV, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican representing Texas’ 21st congressional district, called Salazar’s investigation “an absolute abomination.”

“This is nothing more than Sheriff Salazar playing politics and doing so in a way that would endanger Texans,” Roy claimed, although he failed to explain how conducting an investigation would put anyone in danger.

Roy added, “He should be challenged for it. He should be, you know, removed from office, and someone needs to go take him down in terms of his political career. And we should replace him with someone else. It’s absurd.”

Matt Rinaldi, chairman of the Texas GOP, went as far as to claim that the probe was part of a broader trend of Democrats “routinely criminally investigating Republicans for policy disagreements.”

In a Twitter post Tuesday, Rinaldi added that Republicans in the state Legislature “should stop appointing Democrats as committee chairs who want to put them and their voters in jail.” (Rinaldi didn’t bother to say which voters the sheriff was trying to jail.)

Given the about-face in recent months by many Republicans’ on how they perceive certain law enforcement agencies, the angry response isn't much of a surprise.

When the FBI carried out a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence last month, Texas Republicans jumped to the former president’s defense.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Trump had failed to return classified documents after he left the White House, but the Texas GOP’s official Twitter account quickly claimed the DOJ had been “weaponized against political threats to the regime, as it would in a banana republic.”

Gov. Greg Abbott described the search as “next-level Nixonian,” while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz claimed it marked “an abuse of power” by the bureau and President Joe Biden.

For his part, Cruz has also backed DeSantis’ migrant plane to Martha’s Vineyard. Speaking on Fox News, Cruz said there’s “nothing illegal about offering to fly illegal aliens voluntarily to a billionaire's playground like Martha's Vineyard.”

In his Monday press conference, though, Sheriff Salazar said that the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were not “illegal.”

“They are here legally in our country at that point,” he said. “They have every right to be where they are. I believe that they were preyed upon.” He added that they’d been “lured with promises of a better life.”

DeSantis' plane operation comes as Texas Gov. Abbott continues to send buses carrying migrants to sanctuary cities including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Rights group have accused Abbott of "political stunts" and using migrants as "pawns."
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.