Trouble Down in Texas
“I am the least of all your pilgrims here, but I am the most in need of hope.” - Tom Russell, Texas singer songwriter
Trouble Down in Texas
Americans have been largely privileged by our geography and location. The great human tragedies have tended to be isolated from our borders. Syrian refugees spread across Europe and strain resources in Turkey and Greece. During our adventures in Vietnam, the Philippines gave shelter to the people fleeing the collapse of their government after the U.S. military departed. History is replete with great trans-migrations between nations caused by wars and famine and disease and flood and earthquake.
Maybe now it is our turn?
A march of humanity that originated in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, has made its way to Del Rio, Texas. A nation consistently plagued by hurricanes and corruption, the Haitians recently endured a 7.2 earthquake and the assassination of their president, which has prompted a mass abandonment by its citizens. They made their way first to Panama, and then north, mostly by foot, through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to reach the border town of Ciudad, Acuna on the Rio Grande across from Texas. Some of them have been enroute for years. They have congregated, thirsty, hungry, homeless, hot, and suffering beneath the international bridge in a legal limbo.
And they are unaware they have also become political footballs.
The Christians of the Republican Party of Texas have become frightened. Their first response is not to ask a question their Christ might pose: “How do we help these poor souls?” Instead, Governor Greg Abbott has rolled out hundreds of millions in tax dollars to increase law enforcement and trap them in the mud and Carrizo cane on the riverbanks. If they can drag themselves or their families up from the water, they will be arrested. Charitable groups are attempting to provide hydration, food, blankets, and limited medical care but they are overwhelmed by the estimated 15,000 immigrants.
There are, however, massive numbers of law enforcement officers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection, Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas National Guard. Because immigration laws are being broken. Never the kind of politician to let a crisis unfold without stoking his base and complicating the situation, the Texas governor decided he was going to assume the powers vested in the federal government and shut down six points of entry, effectively stopping international commerce and violating the rights of legal U.S. and Mexican citizens.
A governor who postures and struts about enforcing the law ignored the fact that neither his state nor its national guard has any authority to shut international borders. Abbott’s rules of order did not seem to have time to go into effect, however, before he stepped back from his dramatic gesture and resumed berating the Biden administration for its failure to manage the crisis. If Abbott had closed off the bridges and the surge had continued, the alligator would have been in his backyard, and not Biden’s, and Greg does not want to solve problems, he only wants to bitch about them and attract attention, which is his greatest skill. Nonetheless, he continued to insist that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had requested the assistance with the closures, a claim completely denied by the federal government. Abbott, of course, had no choice but to accuse Washington of changing its mind.
The U.S. has been using a pandemic era order to expel Central American and Mexican immigrants back across the border to await processing, but the Mexican government has said it will not accept Haitians, and the mayor of Del Rio and federal authorities have closed his international bridge by declaring a disaster situation until more resources can be deployed. The president, meanwhile, has indicated the U.S. will begin expelling Haitians by putting them on daily flights back to their island home. A report from the Associated Press suggests there may be as many as eight flights daily until the crisis at Del Rio has eased. The Haitians are expected to face the choice of returning to Mexico or getting on flights back to their desolate homeland suffering from endless plagues of misfortune.
Abbott’s quick about-face on closing the six ports of entry was probably a political correction to a snap decision. When he heard about the Haitian problem, he took what he considered bold, corrective action, even though, as a lawyer, he had to know it was not legal. The state cannot unilaterally take over federal responsibilities. More importantly to the governor, though, was likely his dim realization that if he issued such an order, and the crisis was not averted, the blame would fall into his lap. Instead, he got back into the business of accusing Washington and Biden by claiming the president was really going to move the Haitians to Arizona and California and other locations in Texas.
The Texas governor’s primary interest is not in solving a humanitarian crisis. His focus is on stoking fear and xenophobia and getting conservative radicals to help him win a gubernatorial primary. Old Ironsides might be a tad afraid. A former state senator and the previous head of the Texas Republican Party are both running to his right, and they will drain away some conservative votes. While it seems unlikely those numbers will be sufficient to force Abbott into a primary, Matthew McConaughey is out there riding fences and still talking about jumping into the race. There is no indication he might run as a Republican, but if he chose that party his presence would have the potential to create a runoff for the GOP. If the East Texas actor decides to run as an independent, he mucks things up for Democrats and makes Beto O’Rourke’s probable run even more of dreamy endeavor.
But what about the suffering humans presently at our gate?
What should be our response, as a state, as a people who are supposed to be moral and care about life? Greg Abbott, who posts a verse or two from the Bible every week on his Twitter feed, is disinclined to make any gestures that suggest kindness. While he passes a “heartbeat bill” that invades a woman’s reproductive rights and lectures them about the sanctity of life, he dispatches guns and batons and paddy wagons to meet people who have crossed thousands of miles on foot with their children just for the remote possibility they might acquire a better life. Is this what your Christ would do, Mr. Abbott? One suspects he might be feeding the hungry on the Rio Grande, erecting tents to protect the helpless from the heat and other elements, providing medical care, and working with the federal authorities to find ways to vet and process immigrants who deserve legitimate consideration for political asylum. They have asked for help and sympathy and Texas has shown them the butt of a gun and handcuffs.
Is this what your Christ would do, Mr. Abbott?
What is the appropriate response? Can America take in every person who wants to live within our borders? The answer might be no, but it is a certainty that the changing global geo-political landscape is shifting dramatically with climate change and economic crises and the greater troubles of the planet are coming to our doorstep. No wall will stop the numbers of people struggling and risking their lives to knock on our door. A humanitarian process is necessary to manage the flow of immigrants seeking a better life. But what is that? Do we tell the world that if you get here, we will give you an interview and see if you deserve to step on our soil? Are we obligated to set up processing centers that offer shelter and food and comfort until their issues are resolved? The answer to those questions, I think, is probably yes. We also need to consider our country’s role in the economic problems of Central America, how we have used Honduras as a commercial fruit plantation and propped up dictators that have done our bidding while our culture keeps buying the drugs that are destroying the culture and history of Mexico.
This much I know, though: If Greg Abbott and his political party gave a single good goddamn about the sanctity of life, they would not be looking down from an international bridge at the people scratching in the sand below. They would send food and medicine and counseling and shelter. Instead, Abbott and the GOP posture and pretend that a gaggle of cells must be protected because they generate an electrical impulse that can be interpreted as a heartbeat after six weeks. But a mother nursing a child on the banks of a river that defines a border must be ignored because she was not born on our soil and has violated the sanctity of lines on our map. They are doing nothing differently than what Texans would do if faced with having to take drastic measures to save their families from impoverishment and oppression. There were more than 212,000 apprehensions at the border in July, and more than half of them were families.
No help, though, is likely coming for the indigent immigrants. Greg Abbott has, however, signed a $2 billion dollar spending bill into law that sends more money to the border for more cops and National Guard troops and to build the Great Wall of Texas, a monument to his political ambitions but an icon to the impractical notion he can solve this problem by spending state tax dollars on something federal tax dollars could not fix. The total is now $3 billion. An estimated $750 million will be diverted for wall construction, which is apparently needed, according to Abbott, along 733 miles of the Mexican frontier.
Turns out that Abbott’s political hero, Donald Trump, was wrong: The Mexicans are not paying for the wall; Texas taxpayers are getting stuck with the bill. Abbott has even set up a Go Fund Me page to help pay for his wailing wall where he prays for scary brown immigrants to go away, and that has now reached a total of $54 million.
And remember the concept of “anchor babies?” This was the paranoid notion that America was being overrun with immigrants who wanted to get pregnant and give birth while here so they could have citizenship through the birthrights of their children, born on U.S. soil. We were supposed to fear those children would grow up to be terrorists and attack the country in which they were raised. Such fear is even more acute today among far-right wing nuts like Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of Texas. The former sportscaster, who wants seniors to die of Covid to protect younger people, is arguing that Democrats are part of a Haitian invasion plan in Del Rio. On the scare-cast of a FOX-TV female host, he insisted the sadness on the banks of the big river is a scheme to put Democrats in control of Texas and the nation.
"Democrats are allowing this year probably 2 million [immigrants], that's who we apprehended, maybe another million, into this country," Patrick said on FOX News. "At least in 18 years even if they all don't become citizens before then and can vote, in 18 years if every one of them has two or three children, you're talking about millions and millions, and millions of new voters and they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they're going to vote for?"
The pitch to the Haitians, went something like this to get them to leave their beleaguered island.
“Okay, you hungry, starving, homeless, gather ‘round. I’m from the Democratic Party and I’ll give food and shelter and work if you will promise to make many babies once you are in the U.S. and then send them out to vote for our candidates. Deal? Excellent. We sure are glad you have spent the past year or two getting to our border to help us launch this Haitian invasion of yours but thanks for your trouble. In the meantime, watch out for the chiggers and the DPS and Border Patrol and National Guard and Department of Homeland Security, and if you see some crazed dude in a wheelchair with tombstones in his eyes, we advise you to run in the other direction.
“Also, we will protect your babies before they are born but after they are here in Texas, they are on their own. That’s what the law says. We don’t have money to help. Our taxpayers are strapped paying for thousands of cops on the border and catching up on their utility bills from last winter when our electrical grid failed, and the energy companies got billions and ratepayers got stuck with the tab. That’s how it is here in Texas so hurry up and make those babies and let’s get this invasion underway.”
There is something immeasurably wrong with a man’s heart and his conscience when he is more concerned about a zygote than women having babies beneath an international bridge. Texas, though, has its heartbeat bill that was cleverly written to pit citizens against each other over the issue of abortion, and turn us all into spies in the hopes that we can make $10,000 off the misery and misfortune of a woman dealing with a crisis in her life. The Department of Justice has sued Texas over its law, which effectively bans abortion without explicitly making it illegal. Roe v. Wade has been settled constitutional law in this country since the 70s, but the measure passed by the Texas legislature and signed by Greg Abbott circumvents the legal constraints of federal law. In a typical and disingenuous head fake by an Abbott spokesman, the governor’s office insisted the Biden administration and the DoJ were more interested in diverting attention away from the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan and that’s why DoJ sued the state.
Not to worry, though. Greg Abbott isn’t just building a wall to protect us from the invasion of the brown people. He has also promised to end rape in Texas and get all the rapists off the street. No politician has ever accomplished such a thing, nor will the reprehensible fool who lives in the governor’s mansion. He did, however, take time to tell us that rape was a crime, and women had six weeks to abort any pregnancy by a rapist. As the Lincoln Project pointed out, Abbott has held public office from attorney general to a Supreme Court justice to governor and he has not yet had much success ending rape.
These are the inanities that pass for Republican public discourse in Texas. But it has been working. The electorate seems to have chosen self-flagellation as its preferred form of democracy.