Governor Greg Abbott’s latest anti-immigrant action, stringing buoyed fencing in the Rio Grande, has attracted federal attention, which Abbott is said to be ignoring.
Abbott sailed to re-election in 2022 partially on heavy anti-immigrant sentiment, claiming that President Joe Biden had enacted an open border policy that Texas must circumvent to protect the state. Despite the fact that policing the border is the federal government’s purview, Abbott deployed the Texas National Guard as an occupying force in Operation Lone Star. That deployment has been rife with descriptions, suicides, possible human rights violations, and a marked lack of success.
Nonetheless, Abbott has plowed ahead with a new plan to place floating fencing, including razor wire, in the Rio Grande. Already, it has led to reports of migrants being caught and injured in the wire. There are reports that troops are being ordered to push children back into the water. The White House has called the situation “dangerous” and “abhorrent,” and said it plans to investigate.
That may be the case, but Abbott is apparently ignoring inquiries from the federal government. Federal officials say that the governor has refused all efforts at communication from federal authorities. On Tuesday, Abbott’s press secretary reiterated that the fencing was necessary.
“The real problem is that President Biden’s open border policies have unleashed chaos on the border that’s unsustainable,” said Abbott press secretary Andrew Mahaleris. “We have a constitutional duty to do what President Biden is failing to do, and that is to respond to this unprecedented crisis.”
The floating fence idea was originally conceived by the Trump Administration, who abandoned the plan over humanitarian concerns.
Not only is Abbott’s border war likely unconstitutional, it is starting to put the United States in a difficult international position. Fencing the river violates a 1970 treaty with Mexico regarding management of the river. Neither country is supposed to erect barriers on the river without the permission of the other, an important agreement that prevents disruption of the ecosystem. Apparently, Abbott has not responded to inquiries from the Mexican government either.
Already, Abbott is being sued by private landowners that have has their property co-opted for the floating fencing.
Abbott’s game of chicken with the Biden Administration is a dangerous political one. Anti-immigrant sentiment is steadily rising in America as unprecedented numbers of people cross the southern border fleeing violence in Central and South America. A majority of Americans feel that illegal immigration is a major problem. Biden has consistently polled poorly on the issue despite harsh border policies that have reduced immigration in the recent months. The constant assertions by Abbott and other Republicans that America is being invaded by dangerous foreigners has become the dominant opinion.
On all likelihood, Biden would have to send federal authorities to dismantle Abbott’s fence, a dicey proposition that would likely only increase Abbott’s standing politically and damage the president as re-election looms. Meanwhile, the governor has assumed more power over the border than any state official in history and seemingly has no plans to stop.