In a bizarre move, Governor Greg Abbott has instructed the Texas National Guard to construct razor wire barriers between the border of west Texas and that of the state of New Mexico.
Abbott revealed the reason on X (formerly Twitter) on Sunday.
Our barriers around El Paso forced the migrants crossing illegally to enter into New Mexico,” he tweeted. “They then entered into El Paso from there. To end that, we are building a barrier on the New Mexico border.”
Abbott’s anti-immigration initiatives have long been criticized for being conservative stunts rather than legitimate attempts to stop undocumented immigration. From bussing asylum seekers to blue states to running underwater barriers in the Rio Grande in violation of international treaties to a near-complete stop of border traffic that cost over $1 billion, his anti-immigration policies are more performance art than actual governance.
In fact, they’ve mostly been ineffective. Despite constant claims by Abbott that President Joe Biden has initiated an open border policy, the president has had far more success in stymieing crossings than Abbott. Biden’s South American parole program alone has reduced undocumented crossings by hundreds of thousands. Abbott’s $9 billion Operation Lone Star has managed only a fraction of that.
This new plan is almost certainly unconstitutional. The right to freely travel between states is one of the oldest rights in American law. It was even enshrined in the Articles of Confederation, the document that preceded the U.S. Constitution. The right to travel has been routinely upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the centuries since.
States do have the right to restrict travel from other specific states in the event of health emergencies, and Texas did so from Louisiana in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. When it comes to quarantine, the law has almost always sided with states trying to protect themselves from the spread of disease.
However, it’s unlikely that Abbott will be able to use this justification on the border fence against New Mexico. For one, COVID as a declared state of emergency is over. Both Texas and the federal government ended official declarations of emergency related to the coronavirus. Abbott famously waited until the state legislature enshrined prohibition against mask and vaccine mandates before finally relinquishing his additional authority, but relinquish it he did.
While he has routinely tried to frame the surge in border crossings as an emergency worthy of military-style response, he does not have the constitutional authority to act as a commander-in-chief against border crossers. Thus far, the federal government has been slow to act on Abbott’s overreach, but the Biden Administration has begun to push back with lawsuits.
Meanwhile, the New Mexico government has encouraged Abbott to rethink his impromptu, possibly illegal border.
“We encourage Gov. Abbott to turn his attention away from a never-ending stream of political stunts and toward working in earnest for the people of the state he was elected to represent,” said Caroline Sweeney, a spokesperson for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, to The News.