(CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott took a victory lap Thursday boasting about the amount of fentanyl state law enforcement has seized and the number of undocumented immigrants they have arrested since he launched a border crackdown a year ago.
For his “Operation Lone Star,” the Republican governor deployed more than 10,000 National Guard troops and hundreds of Texas Department of Public Safety police to the state’s border with Mexico starting last March.
Unveiling the initiative, funded by nearly $3 billion the Republican-led state Legislature has allocated for border security, Abbott claimed President Joe Biden’s “open-border policies” had prompted hundreds of thousands of immigrants without papers, aided by human smugglers affiliated with Mexican drug cartels, to enter Texas and they were terrorizing ranch owners, mowing down fences and destroying crops as they made their way north.
Over the past year, Abbott claims, 288 million lethal doses of fentanyl smuggled in from Mexico have been seized in Texas. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid dealers mix with heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Trace amounts can be deadly.
“Texas law enforcement working together have seized enough fentanyl to kill every man, woman and child in Texas, California, New York, Florida and Illinois combined. I have yet to hear the Biden administration talk about the deadly situation we’re facing concerning fentanyl, and don’t even know if the Biden administration cares about it,” said Abbott, joined by other state leaders at a press conference in Weslaco, a border town 40 miles west of Brownsville.
The governor says the operation has led to more than 208,000 migrant apprehensions and 11,800 charges for criminal offenses, most of them misdemeanor trespassing charges.
Yet it has been dogged by controversy and accusations from Democrats it is a publicity stunt as Abbott campaigns this year for a third term in the governor’s mansion and eyes a presidential bid in 2024.
Many of the immigrants arrested for trespassing had their cases dismissed after prosecutors in border counties, unused to the volume of cases, missed deadlines to file charges against them, or on no-cost bonds after they sat in jail for months without hearings.
Six Texas National Guard soldiers have died during the deployment, two from accidental shootings and four by suicide.
Abbott frames the situation as if the Border Patrol does not exist and is doing nothing to stop people who cross the Rio Grande into Texas. But in the first year of Biden’s presidency the agency recorded more than 2 million apprehensions, numbers not seen since the early 2000s, though the figure was inflated by people caught entering the country multiple times.
And Biden has retained a policy known as Title 42, put in place by the administration of President Donald Trump via directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by which the Department of Homeland Security has promptly expelled more than 1.5 million immigrants to Mexico or their home countries without letting them apply for asylum.
Democratic lawmakers say the risk of new arrivals infecting U.S. immigration agents and residents with Covid is minimal and are pushing Biden to end Title 42. The latest CDC order is reportedly set to expire next month.
Asked Thursday if he thought Title 42 was keeping noncitizens out of the country, Abbott claimed the Biden administration has abandoned it. “It was clear under the Trump administration that Title 42 was extremely effective. And I think it’s wrong for the Biden administration to abandon Title 42 and no longer enforce it,” he said.
Biden has not publicly said he plans to end it, but three unnamed U.S. officials familiar with the matter told Reuters this week a phaseout is being debated at the White House.
Immigration has been the president’s most bedeviling domestic issue with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton blocking his efforts to do away with Trump’s hardline anti-immigration policies.
Paxton has successfully sued Biden and DHS officials over his deportation policies, his efforts to end a Trump-era program called Migrant Protection Protocols, which requires those enrolled to wait in Mexico for adjudication of their asylum claims, and his exemption of minors who traveled to the U.S. without parents or legal guardians from Title 42 expulsions.
Paxton too claims Biden is flouting immigration law requiring detention of asylum seekers and doing nothing to secure the Southwest border.
“So we have a continuing fight with the Biden administration,” said Paxton, speaking alongside Abbott at Thursday’s press conference, “with the hope that as time goes on we will force our president, who has betrayed the American people, who doesn’t follow federal law, who doesn’t follow the constitutional role of the president to do what he’s supposed under the Constitution, to do what he’s supposed to do under federal law.”
The issue has been an unsolvable puzzle for Biden with Republicans accusing him of rolling out a red carpet for undocumented immigrants and Democrats moaning he has not lived up to his campaign promise to implement more humane policies.
Still, Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas Law School, said Abbott and Paxton’s criticisms have entered the realm of fantasy.
“It is a far cry from reality to suggest that there is an open border between Texas and Mexico,” she said. “The Biden administration has in place a number of highly restrictive, and even cruel, policies that bar entry to asylum seekers even where federal law requires processing of their claims to protection.”
“It is true that there are significant numbers of arrivals at the border currently, although not at historically high levels,” she added. “However, the majority of migrants are seeking asylum and present no security or law enforcement threat. Instead, necessary and appropriate resources should be deployed to allow for their reception with dignity and proper processing of their asylum claims.”Follow @cam_langford
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