Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American Statesman. February 12, 2024.

Editorial: Lights, cameras but no solutions on Greg Abbott’s border stage

Lights, cameras, action. Surrounded by Texas National Guard members, military vehicles, and Republican counterparts from 11 states, Gov. Greg Abbott cut a dramatic figure last Sunday near downtown Eagle Pass. He was announcing his plan to continue Operation Lone Star, a nearly $10 billion immigration enforcement initiative, and to maintain state control of Shelby Park, a migrant processing site and site of a standoff with the federal government over control of immigration enforcement. He repeated the spectacle Thursday, joining 22 Republican state representatives at the park to announce more guards, razor wire and barriers on the border.

Flanked by the governors, Abbott conjured images of High Noon and a bit of The War of the Worlds. “We are banding together,” he said, “to fight to ensure that we will be able to maintain our constitutional guarantee that states will be able to defend against any type of imminent danger or invasion.”

The danger in such theater is that during a genuine crisis, like the current migrant surge, it eclipses the problem’s real-life complexities.

Immigration trends emerge from a welter of pushes and pulls. Recent push factors include historic levels of human movement worldwide, widespread economic and physical insecurity, and commercialization of migrant trafficking. Treating the vast U.S./Mexico border as a permanent war zone is no way to adapt to these developments. We need sophisticated planning, not razor wire to snare desperate swimmers.

Dramatics have little impact on immigration’s pull

Dramatics also are useless in reducing most immigration pull factors. Abbott is tapping into legitimate frustration with Congress and with immigration and asylum laws as they now stand. Migrants, who are rational actors, Migrants, who are rational actors, have learned that requesting asylumwill delay deportation. And though asylum is rarely granted, migrants may apply for work authorization while awaiting their day in court -- which can take years to arrive.

For more than two decades both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, presidents from both parties, and industries that quietly thrive on low-cost immigrant labor have been shamefully passive in modernizing our immigration and asylum system.

But political theatrics in Texas won’t change that. And they steal the spotlight from Texans’ nuanced experiences with migration. Many abhor the prospect of a chaotic border – but are shocked at the preventable suffering of ordinary people struggling to get here. Most Texans want rule of law. They also hire, fall in love with or may be related to undocumented immigrants.

Despite the optics, Operation Lone Star has been a bust

Above all, Texans want government to make practical improvements in daily life. And despite the optics of armed guards, shipping containers and rolls of razor wire, Operation Lone Star has been a bust, according to a July 2023 Wall Street Journal report. Since the program started, the paper reported, the border area where Operation Lone Star focused most resources saw the fastest rise in illegal border crossings. In that time frame, Operation Lone Star officials conducted only 1 percent of all migrant encounters, totaling 11,000 in contrast to the Border Patrol’s 850,000.

Meanwhile, migrant crossings have gone down across the border in recent weeks, according to the Associated Press. Arrests for illegal crossings hit a historic peak of 249,785 in December 2023. Then they fell by more than half in the first two weeks of January – a drop U.S. Customs and Border Control and Protection credits partly to enhanced cooperation with the Mexican government.

Abbott’s border events, meanwhile, are choreographed to trigger conflict. The Eagle Pass visits followed a series of legal clashes with the federal government over the right to enforce immigration laws. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal authorities may remove the coils of razor wire Operation Lone Star strung along the Rio Grande to repel migrants.

The ruling followed an emergency request filed by the Biden administration, arguing that Texas was blocking U.S. Border Patrol agents from processing newly arrived migrants at Shelby Park and from giving them medical attention.

Abbott has announced he will resist the ruling, claiming Texas’ constitutional right to defend itself from “invasion.” But there’s nothing ambiguous about the principle of pre-emption: the understanding that under the Constitution, federal authority reigns supreme over state law when it comes to immigration matters.

If Abbott continues to defy the law it could be the first step to a constitutional crisis, said Muzaffar Chishti, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. Shelby Park, he said, may be the ground zero for a state/federal standoff reminiscent of desegregation clashes of the past. Such a confrontation, either on the border or at the Supreme Court, would bring more, not less, expense and mayhem to Texans.

Already, Abbot’s defiance seems to exert a gravitational pull. The day before his appearance in Eagle Pass, a convoy arrived 20 miles away to protest migrant crossings, and a migrant processing facility was evacuated when the FBI received threats from known extremists. For months, Americans across the country have shuddered at reports of children and pregnant women pushed back in the Rio Grande, and of medical personnel on Texas soil barred from treating migrants in need.

So far, there has been no violence between Texas and the federal government. With billions spent and little to show for it, Abbott’s performance on the border is a waste of Texans’ money. If he incites constitutional crisis, or permits violence, it will be a horror show.

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Dallas Morning News. February 14, 2024.

Editorial: Republican schism on display again with Dade Phelan censure

The Texas GOP continues its attacks against nonconformity.

The Texas GOP’s war against itself continued this month when its executive committee voted overwhelmingly to censure Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan “for lack of fidelity to Republican principles and priorities.”

This kind of bullying and obsession with total party purity can only lead to more extremists in office and ultimately worse representation for Texans.

Phelan is under fire for his role in the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, a bipartisan measure that 121 of the 149 members of the House supported. It’s clear that this attack is an extension of the revenge campaign Paxton has been on, endorsing primary challenges against many solid Republicans who voted against him. It’s disgraceful, if typical behavior from our embattled attorney general and his cronies.

The resolution to censure Phelan also complains that he “refused to comment in support” of the party’s push for school vouchers. Alongside another grievance that Phelan allowed a border bill to die, the resolution dings him for appointing Democrats to House committee chairmanships as well. The practice is banned under the state GOP’s legislative priorities for the 88th session.

As speaker, Phelan should be free to appoint those he considers most qualified to chair positions, whether there is a “D” or an “R” next to their name. Sixty-four out of the 150 representatives in the state House are Democrats. Republicans have a firm lead, but a significant number of Texans chose Democrats as their representatives, and those representatives shouldn’t be excluded from leadership roles.

The party’s censure against Phelan is hardly surprising; this is only a symptom of infighting that’s been going on for years. In 2017, we named then-Speaker Joe Straus Texan of the Year for his courage in opposing a poorly formulated “bathroom bill.” A month later, and after he announced he was not seeking reelection, the Texas GOP censured him.

In 2022, the party voted to censure another Republican legislator willing to work with Democrats. For supporting legal protections for same-sex marriages and a bipartisan gun safety act, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales was “canceled.” And in 2023, state Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction got the same treatment, largely because of his leading role in the Paxton impeachment.

There was a time when the GOP tolerated disagreement among its members, at least to a point. That allowed elected leaders to govern with their constituents top of mind and to vote with their conscience.

That kind of good governance will go extinct with these party litmus tests.

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AIM Media Texas. February 12, 2024.

Editorial: State rejection of millions in summer food assistance could leave children hungry

Texas is one of 15 states across the country that have declined to accept federal funding that could have helped replace the meals children lose during summer vacation.

The state rejected $350 million in food assistance that Congress already had allocated.

The assistance comes from an Electronic Benefit Transfer program the U.S. Department of Agriculture began in 2022 to help ensure that children still are fed when they don’t receive school breakfasts and lunches. The program offers $40 per month per student in families that qualify, to help cover grocery costs during the summer months.

Studies have long shown that school meals are the only food many children eat during the day, especially in low-income areas such as the Rio Grande Valley. Average poverty rates and property values are so low across the region that every Valley public school district except one — Point Isabel, which includes South Padre Island — qualify for universal free lunch and other food assistance programs.

The federal EBT was intended to offset the difficulties many low-income families face during the summer, when the cost of feeding their children can put a significant strain on family budgets.

Officials with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which would have administered the program, said the state opted out not as a matter of principal, but for administrative reasons. In an email, commission spokeswoman Tiffany Young told our reporter that it didn’t have personnel in place to implement the program — which doesn’t begin until June.

Still, it’s worth asking if that staffing might have existed if the state hadn’t spent so much taxpayers’ money filing dozens of frivolous lawsuits against the federal government and pursuing border security policies that are proven to be ineffective, and reduce state revenue by hurting trade and other economic activity.

EBT was set up as COVID benefits began to expire even as many families still were struggling to recover from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those effects include lost wages, medical expenses and even the loss of families’ wage earners to the disease that has killed some 7,000 Valley residents.

Local school districts and other entities including the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, local shelters and food pantries say they will continue to offer summer meal programs as they have in the past.

To be sure, many of those programs receive federal support through other sources. Any additional assistance, however, would help augment those programs and help more people who need it.

Certainly, we hope for the day when the Valley’s economic fortunes improve enough that fewer people need help just to feed their children. That day isn’t going to come anytime soon, however, and any help that can ease the struggle for needy families should be welcome, and not lost to bureaucratic inadequacies.

Well-paid officials at our state capital don’t have to worry about their children going hungry because summer vacation means they lose their primary source of nutrition. If they did, we’re sure they would have worked harder to ensure that those children receive the sustenance they need.

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