Rights Groups Decry Gov. Greg Abbott's 'Political Stunts' as Texas Sends More Migrant Buses to D.C.

Gov. Greg Abbott has sent a slew of migrant buses to Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Gov. Greg Abbott has sent a slew of migrant buses to Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. Gage Skidmore
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s anti-migrant measures and rhetoric haven’t won him any friends among rights groups and watchdogs. But on Thursday, he upped the ante once again.

He sent two buses to Washington, D.C., dropping off around 100 migrants outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

In a statement Thursday, Abbott blamed President Joe Biden and Harris for the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, where apprehensions have swelled in recent months.

"The Biden-Harris Administration continues ignoring and denying the historic crisis at our southern border, which has endangered and overwhelmed Texas communities for almost two years," Abbott said in a statement.

The governor took a shot at Harris for recently claiming that the border is “secure,” adding: “Texas will continue sending migrants to sanctuary cities like Washington, D.C. until President Biden and Border Czar Harris step up and do their jobs to secure the border.”
In recent months, Abbott has also sent migrant buses to New York City and Chicago, prompting political rows with mayors in those cities.

Laura Peña, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Beyond Borders program, described Abbott’s buses as a “political stunt.”

“Migrants are brave people with agency, not political pawns,” Peña said by email. “The right to seek asylum through a legal process in American courts is guaranteed under U.S. and international law.”

Peña added that Abbott’s move “toys with lives of Black and Brown immigrants and fails to solve any real humanitarian issues.”

As Republicans nationwide place a tunnel-vision focus on the border ahead of the November midterm elections, Abbott has taken a leading role.

"Migrants are brave people with agency, not political pawns." – Laura Peña, Texas Civil Rights Project

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He’s accused the Biden administration of “open-border policies,” and last year he launched Operation Lone Star, a controversial and expensive border clampdown that’s deployed Texas Department of Public Safety officers and National Guard troops to South Texas.

Meanwhile, many prominent Texas Republicans have lined up behind Abbott as he continues to send migrants north.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, whose 2nd congressional district lies in the Houston area, defended the buses in an interview with CNN.

“What he’s doing is he’s sending a message,” Crenshaw said. “There’s no secret there. There isn’t a policy move. This is a move of desperation to get someone to pay attention to what we’re dealing with in Texas.”

Backed by his fellow Republicans or not, the bus scheme might not be all that effective. According to data published by Syracuse University, sending migrants to, say, New York City likely increases their chances of remaining in the U.S. for a longer period.

Still, rights groups say migrants deserve better than to be used as “political pawns.” Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said there are “ongoing questions about reports related to people saying they’re having difficult leaving the buses. Unfortunately, there’s not really great visibility into those questions at this time,” Huddleston said by phone, adding that Abbott’s “scapegoating of migrants” is “absolutely part of a bigger problem.”

With midterm elections less than two months away, Abbott continues to campaign on an increasingly anti-migrant platform. In recent months, he’s joined other Republicans in describing the border crisis as an “invasion,” rhetoric that’s similar to that used by the white nationalist shooter who killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in August 2019.

“We’re absolutely seeing rising anti-immigrant hate in Texas and among state and local officials through Operation Lone Star,” Huddleston added.

Still, while Abbott’s border measures have sparked criticism elsewhere in the country, many Texans back him.

In a poll published by the University of Texas at Tyler and The Dallas Morning News last month, some 51% of those surveyed said they approved of how Abbott has handled immigration.

On Thursday, activists with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) said they plan to block migrant buses leaving the Del Rio and Eagle Pass areas starting next week.

Speaking outside the Naval Observatory, LULAC President Domingo Garcia said Abbott’s buses were “un-Christian, un-Texan, un-American and something that should not be allowed,” The Dallas Morning News reported.

Not to be outdone by Abbott, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday sent two planeloads of migrants to Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

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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.