Coronavirus

Texas Gov. Abbott Warns of Migrants Crossing Border Illegally … from South Africa

Gov. Greg Abbott warns of South African immigrants.
Gov. Greg Abbott warns of South African immigrants. Gage Skidmore
As everyone was still digesting their Thanksgiving turkey, the World Health Organization on Friday announced a new COVID-19 “variant of concern”: Omicron. The variant was first discovered in South Africa, leading President Joe Biden to roll out travel restrictions.

Soon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott decided to weigh in. “Biden banned travel from South Africa because of the new Covid variant,” Abbott said in a tweet.

True, but then the Republican politician appeared to get a little confused.

“Immigrants have recently been apprehended crossing our border illegally from South Africa,” Abbott continued. “Biden is doing nothing to stop immigrants from South Africa entering illegally. Pure politics and hypocrisy.”
Before long, a social media firestorm erupted, with critics accusing the governor of mixing up South America with South Africa. Although both take up room in the globe’s bottom half, not much else binds the continent and the country — except that they both have “South” in their names.

Some may ask themselves: Well, what if Abbott didn’t make a mistake at all? Could there be a serious South African migrant problem at play here?

Not exactly.

Lomi Kriel, a reporter with the ProPublica-Texas Tribune Investigative Initiative, said in a tweet that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) catches very few South African interlopers each year. Kriel is also a South Africa native who has covered immigration for the Houston Chronicle, according to her bio on ProPublica.

“The # of South Africans caught entering by @CBP across ENTIRE southern border is so small it's not tracked on monthly updates including 20 top nationalities,” she said. “But for 2020 it was 6; 2019, 4; 2018, 4; 2017, 5; 0 in 2016. Since the variant Thursday, almost no way to get to border.”

Kriel went on to write that South Africa’s vaccination rate is the same as it is in Bell County — which, she notes, is less than 70 miles from the governor’s house.

“There are almost no ways for South Africans to get to TX border since variant was announced b/c most SA flights transit through Europe or the US,” she continued in a thread. “Perhaps the governor confused South Africa for the continent of South America, from which TX has seen a Venezuelan/ Brazil influx.”
Abbott’s office didn’t return the Observer’s request for comment by publication time.

Some on social media made fun of Abbott’s apparent blunder by pointing out the difficulty in crossing the U.S. border from South Africa.

“Greg’s geography in a nutshell,” one Twitter user wrote in a reply to Abbott’s tweet, which included a fake map of the African continent, with “USA” directly north of South Africa. “How does one swim from South Africa to your country through this cold ass Atlantic ocean?” someone else asked.
John Sipher, a former senior executive in the CIA's National Clandestine Service, even suggested a new construction project.

“A simple wall between Texas and South Africa would seem the wisest move,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Abbott has taken a shot at the president that ultimately backfired. In April, after FOX falsely claimed that Biden wanted to ban burgers, the governor proclaimed in a tweet: “Not gonna happen in Texas!”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter