Gov. Abbott’s Migrant Buses Hit Roadblock as D.C. Attorney General Takes a Closer Look

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has accused the Biden administration of "open-border policies."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has accused the Biden administration of "open-border policies." U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Even as criticism has mounted, Gov. Greg Abbott has time and again doubled down on his program busing migrants to sanctuary cities.

Now, the Texas Republican’s buses are reportedly facing another roadblock: the D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine's office is reportedly looking into whether migrants were tricked or misled into boarding the buses and about the nature of the trips.

The news was first reported Friday by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica. Speaking to those outlets, Racine said migrants interviewed by investigators "have talked persuasively about being misled, with talk about promised services."

Contacted by the Observer, Racine's office declined to comment further. Abbott’s spokespeople failed to respond to a request for comment.

Since Abbott started sending migrant buses earlier this year as part of Operation Lone Star, his controversial, state-led border crackdown, rights groups, watchdogs and Democrats have called the program a “political stunt.

So far, Texas has sent more than 12,000 migrants to Washington, Chicago and New York City, all of which are sanctuary cities.

Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency in response to growing number of migrants arriving. "Our right-to-shelter laws, our social services, and our values are being exploited by others for political gain," he said at the time. "New Yorkers are angry. I am angry too."

Abbott, however, took to Twitter and responded by defending the move and vowing to send more buses.

“Sanctuary cities like New York City experience a FRACTION of what Texas border communities face every day,” he wrote. “We'll continue busing migrants to NYC, DC, & Chicago to relieve our overwhelmed border towns until Biden does his job to secure the border.”

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Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, recently told the Observer there were “concerns about the degree of information that people have when they get on the buses.”

Describing the buses as an effort to “use people as pawns,” she said, “There are ongoing questions about reports related to people saying they’re having difficulty leaving the buses.”

Still, Abbott’s border policies have proved popular among many Texans. In August, The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler released a poll that found more than half of Texans surveyed backed the governor’s migration-related measures.

Cal Jillson, a professor at Southern Methodist University and an expert on Texas politics, explained that it’s still unclear whether the governor’s busing actions are legal.

“From the Texas perspective, we take on a very great deal in the maintenance of people in the country illegally,” Jillson explained. “You can see why Texans are sympathetic with the governor and what he's doing, but that doesn't mean it's legal.”

But Abbott’s not the only Republican governor who has sent migrants across the country as part of an effort to discredit Democratic-led cities. Arizona Gov. Greg Ducey has also sent buses carrying migrants north, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for flying migrants from Texas to Florida and then to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Last month, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office announced that it was investigating DeSantis’ flights to Martha’s Vineyard, a move that prompted ire from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other state Republicans.

At the time, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, a Democrat, said he had launched the probe into whoever “lured and transported 48 migrants from the Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio, TX to Martha's Vineyard.”

Paxton, in turn, accused Salazar of “partisan grandstanding” and claimed that the Bexar County investigation itself was “unlawful,” although he didn’t specify which law it allegedly broke.

For his part, Abbott kicked off Operation Lone Star in March 2021. Since then, thousands of Texas National Guard troops and Department of Public Safety officers have deployed to the state’s border with Mexico.

Already costing more than $4 billion, that operation includes arresting migrants, busing them, returning them to federal authorities at official ports of entry and building a wall on the Texas-Mexico border. 

The governor has promoted the operation as an effort to protect the country’s border where the federal government fails to do so. However, the Department of Justice is reportedly investigating Operation Lone Star for potential civil rights violations.

In a gubernatorial debate late last month, Beto O'Rourke, Abbott's Democratic challenger, called Operation Lone Star a "stunt," adding: "Ten thousand Guard members, $4 billion and it's been a complete failure."
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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