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Gov. Abbott chartering migrants to D.C. on buses and flights, but only if they volunteer

Migrants find an alternate place to cross from Mexico to the United States after access to a dam was closed, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. (AP Photo/Sarah Blake Morgan)
Migrants find an alternate place to cross from Mexico to the United States after access to a dam was closed, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. (AP Photo/Sarah Blake Morgan)
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After visiting border area law enforcement officials Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced he is going to send apprehended migrants to Washington, D.C., via charter buses to send President Joe Biden a message, though not without misleading the public on the force with which he would use for this tactic.

Abbott began by identifying two methods he would employ to respond to climbing border crossings, the most eyebrow-raising of which was the use of Texas taxpayer-paid charter buses to send apprehended migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C. The state has contracted as many as 900 charter buses to help with natural disaster evacuations in the past, and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said as many buses as needed are available for chartering apprehended migrants.

"To help local officials whose communities are being overwhelmed by hordes of illegal immigrants who are being dropped off by the Biden administrations, Texas is providing charter buses to send these illegal immigrants who have been dropped off by the Biden administration to Washington, D.C. We are sending them to the U.S. Capitol where the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of people they are allowing to come across our border," Abbott said.

What Abbott failed to say in the press conference, however, is that he was also chartering potentially more costly flights, and the apprehended migrants would have to voluntarily board the buses or planes for this plan. This was never mentioned when he forcefully announced and heavily implied these migrants would be required to board these buses. This information was included in the press release sent about two hours after his press conference.

"To board a bus or flight, a migrant must volunteer to be transported and show documentation from DHS. Mayors and county judges can notify TDEM of any DHS-facilitated drop-off of migrants in their communities so that the agency can provide appropriate transportation," the press release said.

This is to supplement the ongoing Operation Lone Star, which is the mission Abbott began in response to increased border crossings during the Biden administration. The state has deployed 10,000 National Guard and DPS troopers to the Mexico border as part of the mission.

However, it has already come under fire from critics, which include guardsmen who are part of the operation, according to this joint report by The Texas Tribune and Military Times.

According to an analysis by The Texas Tribune, ProPublica, and The Marshall Project last month, Operation Lone Star is costing Texas taxpayers $2.5 million per week.

When asked how much chartering buses - before the media in the press conference was informed about the use of planes in this plan - would cost. Abbott was cryptic in his answer, simply stating the funds were available.

"To achieve what we're talking about right now requires no additional funding right now," Abbott said. "Securing the border does not come cheap. Securing the border would cost Texas nothing if the federal government was doing its job, but because Joe Biden is not securing the border, the state of Texas has had to step up and spend Texas taxpayer money to do the federal government's job."

This response by Abbott is due in large part to Biden repealing Title 42 last week. Title 42 is the policy started by President Donald Trump that expelled all asylum-seeking migrants in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Republican leaders have expressed concern this will lead to more crossings at the southern border. Border Patrol officials have said they expect potentially 18,000 crossings per day after Title 42 comes to an end on May 23. Last week, officials said 7,100 migrants were arriving each day.

During the beginning of Biden's administration, crossings hit more than 1.5 million in fiscal year 2021 and are approaching 1 million already in fiscal year 2022. Under President Donald Trump, the most crossings his administration faced were 859,501 in 2019, though his other three years did not exceed 406,000. Under President Barack Obama, the most crossings his administration faced were 486,651 in 2014.

In addition to his misleading charter bus strategy, Abbott also announced he is authorizing DPS troopers to increase enhanced safety inspection of vehicles crossing the border, especially commercial vehicles like box trucks DPS Director Steve McCraw said were traditionally used in human and drug smuggling.

When asked if DPS troopers needed probable cause to conduct these inspections, McCraw said they did not because they are safety inspections and not a criminal investigation.

Abbott also announced additional strategies taken right now include deploying boat and container blockades on the Rio Grande River and low water crossings, putting razor wire on low water crossings, and have the National Guard begin mass migration rehearsals ahead of the May end to Title 42.

ALSO | Ex-Trump officials press Texas to declare border 'invasion'

In the meantime, critics are already picking apart this plan.

"I wish we could put razor wire around the false statements made about the border," said Progress Texas Senior Advisor Glenn Smith. "I started laughing at the idea of putting people in buses and taking them to D.C. I think it's a rhetorical stunt, and I don't think he'll ever do it."

However, this is no laughing matter to Smith, because one strategy Abbott was expected to announce Wednesday is still on the table.

The AP reported Trump officials have been leaning heavily on Abbott to declare the situation at the southern border as an invasion. This would give DPS troopers and National Guard there as part of Operation Lone Star the federal power to expel and turn away migrants at the border, instead of just arresting them for trespassing once they're in Texas.

Abbott ended up not announcing this as one of the measures he is taking immediately, but did not close the door on that option by saying more announcements were coming next week.

"Texas is evaluating every tool that we can possibly use to make sure we're doing everything we can to secure the border," Abbott said.

Legal experts have said this tactic may not stand up to legal scrutiny, and would be an unprecedented action by a state.

Still, Smith said he is worried that Abbott did not outright deny he would resort to this strategy.

"I think it's basically a declaration of war in a certain sense, in that if there's an invading army, states could do this. The legal, political, economic, and humanitarian consequences of declaring war when there is no war could be vast and dangerous, and it shouldn't be done," Smith said.

Beyond the legality, Smith said he also worries about how this clouds perceptions.

Most of the migrants at the border are seeking asylum, and were denied the opportunity to take part in the legal way to try and be allowed into the country because of Title 42. Smith said he worries using the term, "invasion," paints these migrants in a negative light, demonizing them to Republican supporters.

"The people here to seek peace and safety for their families, it's hard to characterize them as an 'invasion' of peace-seekers. America was built on people seeking peace from the dangers of other places. It is a mischaracterization," Smith said. "We're talking about people who have been stopped at the border and apprehended. They're already apprehended. They're not in the suburbs of Houston or suburbs of Dallas. They've been apprehended and stopped at the border. They want to make people believe, 'Oh my gosh, these people shouldn't be in the U.S. and everywhere.' That is not the case. If they weren't apprehended, he couldn't put them on buses and take them to D.C."

Smith said Abbott and other state and federal leaders should look at what's causing people to try and enter the U.S. if they want to actually try and drive down the number of attempted border crossings.

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"As long as we promote, or tolerate, or turn our backs on the murderous, unhealthy conditions people are having to live in, in the countries south of us and even in Europe, they're going to want to come here," Smith said. "So we ought to address those causes. That would assist in managing what should become serious change in policies."

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