Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he'll begin expelling migrants, setting up legal fight with federal officials

The move appears to put the Republican governor in violation of existing law that gives the federal government jurisdiction over immigration enforcement.

click to enlarge Gov. Greg Abbott puts on his best game face and  faux-military shirt for a photo op along the U.S.-Mexico border. - Instagram / governorabbott
Instagram / governorabbott
Gov. Greg Abbott puts on his best game face and faux-military shirt for a photo op along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the Texas National Guard and the Department of Public Safety to begin returning migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border to points of entry, setting up a likely legal showdown with the federal government.

The move is the latest hardline immigration maneuver from Abbott, who's made border security a centerpiece of his 2022 reelection campaign. While the order stops short of allocating state resources for full-fledged deportations, it appears designed to test existing law that gives the federal government jurisdiction over immigration enforcement.

Abbott, whose lead against Democrat Beto O'Rourke has slipped significantly in new polls, has repeatedly accused the Biden administration of having an "open border" policy. However, the high number of deportations under the Democratic president's watch don't bear that out, immigration experts argue.

"While President Biden refuses to do his job and enforce the immigration laws enacted by Congress, the State of Texas is once again stepping up and taking unprecedented action to protect Americans and secure our southern border," Abbott said in an emailed statement.

Echoing earlier campaign rhetoric, Abbott argued that Biden had enabled Mexican cartels to "smuggle in record numbers of people, weapons and deadly drugs like fentanyl."

Thursday's order from Abbott comes after officials in some Texas counties this week called on him to declare an "invasion" under the Texas and U.S. constitutions. While they argued the move would enable the governor to use state resources for deportations, most legal scholars consider that claim spurious.

Abbott's order invokes similar language, maintaining that Biden's "failure to faithfully execute" immigration laws means the president has abandoned an article of the Constitution requiring him to "protect each [State in this Union] against Invasion.” It also cites the administration's efforts to end some Trump-era immigration policies.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said Abbott's order is unlikely to withstand a federal challenge. However, he said the governor's concern likely focused on the short term gain it might give him ahead of the election.

"It would be more persuasive as an executive order if it didn't contain the governor's campaign language about the Biden administration not enforcing immigration laws and about it having an open border policy," Jillson said. "It's election season in Texas, and the governor feels like any legal confrontation he can force with the Biden administration will go over well."

Further, Jillson notes that the document is vague about whether the migrants sent to  points of entry would be turned over to the feds or actually escorted across the border.

If Abbott's order puts him on a collision course with the Biden White House, it won't be the first time the feds have intervened over his immigration policies.

This week, the state revealed in correspondence with two news outlets, that Abbott's Operation Lone Star — a controversial $3 billion effort to arrest migrants for state law violations, including minor property crimes — is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for alleged civil rights violations.

Since its 2021 launch, the program has busted thousands of migrants on trespassing charges, many of whom languished in jail for weeks without facing charges — a violation of state law. The program has also faced criticism for creating legal chaos at the border and disrupting the lives of guard members.

What's more, a federal judge last summer halted an Abbott mandate calling on police to pull over vehicles suspected of transporting migrants who "pose a risk" of transmitting COVID-19.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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