Governors Abbott and DeSantis aim to score political points with migrant busing program, professor says

“It really is pretty remarkable to see how our immigration posture has changed over the last 25 years ago or so.”

By Glorie MartinezSeptember 19, 2022 5:12 pm, ,

Gov. Greg Abbott’s migrant busing program continued over the weekend as a second bus arrived at Vice President Kamala Harris’ home. Abbott has sent thousands of migrants to Democratic-led cities since spring, in protest of President Biden’s immigration policies. 

Harris became the latest target of Abbott’s initiative after she said the border was secure in an interview with NBC last week. 

Nearly two million migrants have been apprehended at the border so far this year, topping the total number from last fiscal year. Some Republican leaders blame the increase on Biden’s decision to relax Trump-era border policies. Several, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, are following Abbott’s lead and relocating migrants to so-called sanctuary cities, often without warning those local government leaders. 

Many Democrats are critical of the relocations and accused Abbott and other Republicans of using migrants as political pawns. With immigration among the top issues concerning Texans this election season, the impact of Abbott’s busing program will likely play a role in the outcome of the state’s November races. 

Walter Wilson is an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio who specializes in Latino politics and representation. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Say a little bit about this bus plan that Gov. Abbott is saying exposes the hypocrisy of some of these sanctuary cities that are now calling on, for instance, intervention by the National Guard and other rather large steps to try to deal with the number of migrants that are being bused in. What do you make of it?

Walter Wilson: Well, I make of it partisan politics. It really is pretty remarkable to see how our immigration posture has changed over the last 25 years ago or so. You know, if we’re looking back to 1997 when a Republican-led Congress granted asylum to Cubans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans and other immigrants from post-communist countries, we really see that the sort of ideology of immigration has really changed, especially with the Republican Party, to a posture that is much more about simply scoring political points. It’s very frustrating, I think, because these are real people who are sort of being treated like lost luggage by these politicians.

Let me ask you how Gov. Abbott’s policy differs from what El Paso is doing locally. The city itself has its own busing program that was recently reported by local media. How do you draw the distinctions?

Well, look, I don’t know much about El Paso’s program, but what I will say is that these individuals who are being bused, regardless of whether it’s by El Paso or by the state of Texas, deserve to be treated with dignity, I would think. That includes being honest with them about what the program is about. I mean, I read reports that, for example, suggest that many of the migrants who were recently flown to Martha’s Vineyard were misled about exactly what was happening. There are lots of reports like that coming out and I think the bottom line is that we’ve got some pretty desperate situations going on in Venezuela and many other places where these migrants are coming from. I think it would be wise of us to think about treating these people with compassion and try to understand exactly what’s going on here. I mean, if we’re looking at Venezuela, that country is in a state of utter collapse. One in five Venezuelans have left the country since 2014. In 2014, a bolivar was worth about one penny. By 2018, the exchange rate between the bolivar and the dollar was 250,000 to 1. In other words, the currency is utterly worthless. So for all the people in this country who are worried about the inflation that we’ve been seeing here, you know, think about the idea that your currency could be utterly worthless and what that would do to the economic desperation that people are facing. So I think we need to put that in perspective. The fact that Abbott and other politicians completely ignore that and try to score points with these people is just remarkable.

Having said that, you talk to mayors of border cities almost across the board and they say we don’t have the infrastructure. What’s compassionate about allowing them just to sort of wander here without any opportunity, without the ability to feed and house and shelter these folks? 

No doubt the border cities are not equipped to deal with the influx. There needs to be some much more strategic and comprehensive plan for handling this humanitarian crisis.

Would that not be a federal imperative?

Absolutely. But this kind of brings us back to my earlier comment about how our posture on immigration has changed. You know, back in the late nineties, we could have seen a Republican-led Congress address a problem like this in a reasonable way that got bipartisan support. I think, unfortunately, while there are probably plenty of people in Congress who want to address this problem, there are plenty more who would rather not address it because it’s a politically useful issue. Think about it. I mean, if Republicans and Democrats come together to solve this problem, then the opportunity to score political points with— 

You take a wedge issue off the table.

Yeah, exactly.

What does this mean politically? Is there a way of knowing what the general attitude of Texans is and whether or not this will affect outcomes in November?

Well I have to assume that those who are participating in these stunts, like Gov. DeSantis and Gov. Abbott, believe that it will benefit them politically. You know, one thing we’ve learned over the last five or six years, especially during the Trump administration, is that the politics of bombast and distraction can really capture the media and public attention in a way that takes away focus from, frankly, a lack of urgency about competent governing.

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