Gov. Greg Abbott visited the Texas-Mexico border on Wednesday, flanked by nine other GOP governors. The group held an event at a park near the Rio Grande, just south of Mission, Texas. Abbott outlined what he called a plan to end the border crisis.
John Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about the governors’ South Texas event and the prominent role law enforcement hardware played in staging it.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Was this more of a publicity stunt – a photo op – or were more border policies or solutions mentioned by the Texas governor?
John Moritz: Given the season we’re approaching, I would say it was probably equal parts. As photo ops go, it was impressive. The governor was flanked by nine of his fellow Republican governors, and in the background were an array of military vehicles. And the talk was tough and the target was Biden.
Could you say a little bit more about the show of military force there?
We had two Black Hawk helicopters in our line of sight. I believe it was 11 Humvees, a couple of five-ton trucks, and off to the side was a DPS helicopter as well. And there were uniformed National Guard troops accompanying each of the vehicles.
Given that we’re largely talking about criticism of the Biden administration in some of these comments made by the Texas governor, how much has the number of Department of Public Safety officers and National Guard troops affected what’s happening at the border?
Included in the news conference was Steve McCraw, and he basically runs the Texas Department of Public Safety. He said that they are being aggressive and proactive on the border, basically trying to fill in gaps that they see the Border Patrol may have left open, or just in response to what they consider to be a less than aggressive posture by the Biden administration at approaching the situation down there.
Are state forces working with border agents or is there a kind of competition going on?
I don’t know that there’s a competition so much now. Obviously, the state law enforcement does not act as a Border Patrol. But the way the governor described it is, they are there in case someone is trespassing, damaging property and breaking the laws of Texas. The troopers down there and the local police can arrest [migrants] on those state charges and bring them to jail where they would go through the criminal justice process. Obviously, the Border Patrol is assigned to patrol the border. And they are the ones that are charged with enforcing federal immigration law.
Given that you have these other Republican governors present, only one other from a border state, I’m wondering how the political messaging is aligning with what’s happening on the ground?
Clearly the governor sees his approach to the border as a winning message for him in Texas. The other governors – their presence kind of lends a little bit of heft to that statement. And their message was what happens on the border doesn’t just affect Texas, it filters throughout the states, whether it’s drug smuggling or whether the people who cross without authorization make it into their states.
And many of those governors also supplied some law enforcement assistance to Texas, as well as some guard troops, under the rationale that helping Texas in its efforts down there will help their own state.
One of the centerpieces of Governor Abbott’s policy is to build a Texas border wall. Is there any indication how much that border wall concept still resonates with Republican voters and, again, thinking about some of those Republican governors present?
I think the concept of a wall probably would resonate with Republican voters, but it’s clear that it’s not a wall like what we saw being built during the Trump years. It’s not going to be quite as imposing. It’s more of a barrier. I’d hate to characterize it as a backyard fence, but it might be closer to a backyard fence than it would be to a full-fledged border wall.