With Trucks and Buses, Texas Sends a Message to Washington and Mexico

Slowing bridge traffic and delivering migrants to the Capitol have gotten some results, but they can't make up for federal failure

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 15, 2022

On April 6, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced he would begin busing illegal migrants apprehended at the border and released by DHS in his state to Washington, D.C. He also stated that Texas’ Department of Public Safety (DPS) would start “enhanced safety inspections” of all trucks entering the Lone Star State from Mexico. Both actions have been derided as “stunts”, but one man’s “stunt” is another man’s “message”. Each message is plainly being sent to Washington, though the second one is directed toward Mexico, as well.

The D.C. Bus Message. Some context is needed to put Abbott’s bus message into context.

As I explained on March 30, DHS has been so overwhelmed attempting to process and release (in violation of law) the illegal migrants it’s caught at the Southwest border in Texas that it has been dropping them miles inland on the small towns of Uvalde (population: just over 16,000) and Carrizo Springs (population: 5,203).

That has caused real problems for the locals because they have no experience in dealing with migrants and few facilities to assist them. Further, Uvalde has only limited bus service out of town, while Carrizo Springs is not on a transit line at all. Transporting those migrants to San Antonio (where they can set out for the rest of the country) was going to cost Uvalde in particular thousands of dollars a day.

Not surprisingly, the day after the governor announced his bus plan, Uvalde’s mayor, Don McLaughlin, revealed that he had met with Abbott before his announcement and expected the buses to be staged in his area.

Guess what? The Washington Examiner reported on April 13 that DHS has now “walked back its plans” to drop migrants off in Uvalde.

In that article, McLaughlin claims that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told senior Border Patrol officials not to discuss the change with anyone — “even while out in public at restaurants”. According to the mayor:

I think the government is trying to keep the governor's bus program quiet because if they come up there, they get out on the steps of the Capitol, the whole world will see what we're seeing in South Texas and along the southwest border every day. ... And that it is not all about family units and young children, which is a tragedy, no question. But all of a sudden, you're going to see all these young adult-age males and females getting off buses, not families with kids. You're going to see what we see. I don't think they want that narrative seen.

That would be wholly consistent with the lack of transparency that has been the hallmark of the Biden administration’s implementation of its immigration policies and procedures.

The migrant releases in Uvalde and Carrizo Springs are plainly not the sole focus of Abbott’s plan to send illegal migrants to Washington and drop them off there. His message has been received by DHS as it relates to dumping migrants on unwilling communities in Texas, however.

Enhanced Safety Inspections. My colleague Todd Bensman has written extensively about Abbott’s plan to have DPS inspect incoming trucks arriving in Texas from Mexico with a fine-tooth comb, explaining:

Bright and early on Thursday, April 7, small groups of Texas Department of Public Safety commercial vehicle inspectors started slow and methodical inspections of trucks coming off the Pharr-Reynosa international bridge. The operation immediately jammed up trucks for more miles into Mexico than web and drone cameras could see.

When most Americans think of commercial ports, they generally focus on seaports like the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, or Newport News, Va., where massive ships steam in with hundreds of containers strapped to their decks.

The land ports of entry in Texas, however, handle tons of freight daily. For example, as the Brookings Institution has explained:

Laredo may only house 250,000 people, but it might be the most important Texas metro area you’ve never heard of, considering that virtually every international good passing through it heads somewhere else in the U.S. The border town is the southernmost point of Interstate 35 — the so-called NAFTA superhighway — and handles almost half of U.S./Mexican surface trade.

There are actually five bridges connecting Laredo, Texas, with Mexico, four vehicle bridges and one for trains, and more than 36 percent of all trucks (2.1 million-plus annually) crossing the U.S.-Mexico border pass through the town.

The busiest of the bridges (and the only one that connects to the Mexican state of Nuevo León) is the Colombia Solidarity International Bridge. After the enhanced inspection protocol went into effect there, vehicles were waiting anywhere between three and 10 hours to pass into the United States.

Texas has been coy about why, exactly, it decided that now was the time to start performing enhanced safety inspections (which are well within its sovereign rights and police powers). Bensman speculates that the real reason is to “inflict economic pain to force the Biden administration and/or Mexico to pay attention to Texas concerns about the coming migrant tidal wave”.

My colleague is undoubtedly correct, and at least Mexico has gotten the message.

Bensman reports that Abbott and Governor Samuel Alejandro Garcia Sepulveda of Nuevo León have reached an agreement: Sepulveda has “begun and will continue border security enhancement measures” at ports of entry and along the Rio Grande “to prevent illegal immigration from Nuevo Leon into Texas”, while Abbott is calling off DPS at the Columbia Solidarity International Bridge.

And yesterday, Abbott announced similar agreements with the governors of two other Mexican border states, Chihuahua and Coahuila.

Despite his success, Abbott has received sharp criticism on the inspection issue from the usual suspects. The pro-business Wall Street Journal, for example, ran an editorial captioned “Greg Abbott’s $5 Avocados”, in which they complained that Abbott’s “truck inspections are costing Texans and Americans dearly while doing nothing to secure the border.”

I am a big fan of the Journal and support the calls in its pages for Biden to take border security more seriously, but when the rising cost of guacamole in Greenwich, Conn., is more important to you than the safety of communities along the Rio Grande, your priorities may not be in order.

That said, Abbott could overplay his hand. DPS has shown it can tie up northbound commerce at the Southwest border, and as noted at least Mexican authorities are paying attention. Given the fact that the Biden administration has turned a blind eye to the national security vulnerabilities and human suffering that has followed in the wake of its border nonfeasance, rotting fruit is not going to make it change its ways.

The business interests that are impacted, however, could put pressure on Abbott to not only stop the enhanced DPS truck inspections but also to curb some of his other border-security efforts. These include Operation Lone Star, under which DPS state troopers are making migrant apprehensions along the border, and Texas’s construction of border barriers near Rio Grande City.

And if Abbott won’t bend to such demands, many of those interests would likely shift their support to his Democratic opponent in the upcoming gubernatorial elections, perennial candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, whose immigration positions are much more aligned with the White House than Abbott’s.

It is Ultimately Biden’s Job. Securing the border and preventing the unlawful entry of aliens is the federal government's — that is, Joe Biden’s — job. The administration, however, seems rather blasé about the current state of the border.

For example, during her press briefing on April 13, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked:

[T]he first bus of migrants arrived in D.C. today. Texas Governor Greg Abbott making good on his promise to send migrants to the President’s doorstep. I think you previously called it a publicity stunt. Is that still the view of the White House? Can you give us any reaction to this busload of migrants arriving here in D.C.?

Psaki responded:

Well, these are all migrants who have been processed by CBP and are free to travel. So, it’s nice the state of Texas is helping them get to their final destination as they await in — their outcome of their immigration proceedings. And they’re all in immigration proceedings.

They were “free to travel” before — all the way to the United States illegally, aided and abetted by the president’s laissez faire border control policies. Illegal immigration has serious consequences, however, and if Psaki’s insouciant response is indicative of the White House’s position, the president and his advisors just don’t care.

As for the part about those migrants “all” being “in immigration proceedings”, Psaki knows that those proceedings mean nothing if those aliens ordered removed are not actually removed — which they likely will not be.

The Southwest border is in a state of chaos tipping toward calamity. Attempting to bring order to that chaos is not Texas’s job, but it is trying to do so, anyway. Gov. Greg Abbott is not suffering in silence; he is sending messages to Washington and Mexico about the problem there. Psaki can laugh all she wants — some of those messages are getting through.