Abbott slams Biden over Times report that some migrants may be forced to stay in Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott slammed President Biden on Thursday over a Times report that Washington is considering forcing some migrant families to remain in Texas while they await asylum processing.

“This scam was tried years ago & was shot down by a judge,” Abbott wrote in a late-night post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “We will send Biden the same swift justice.”

The Texas governor, a fierce critic of Biden’s border policies, has bused thousands of migrants to Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and other blue cities since 2022. He vowed in his post on X that he would send “even more buses of migrants to Washington D.C.”

The Biden plan, which has not yet been finalized, would force certain migrant families to remain in Texas — or possibly other border states — by tracking their location through GPS monitoring devices, such as ankle bracelets.

But it was always almost certain to attract the ire of not only immigrant advocates but also border-state officials such as Abbott.

Migrants and their advocates have already laid out objections to the plan.

“When people cross borders their human rights come with them,” said Marisa Limón Garza, head of the Las Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, in a statement. Politicians like Abbott and Biden “cannot continue playing games with the lives of thousands of children and families,” she added. “Migrants are not hot potatoes.”

Most of the unauthorized migrants who have arrived in blue cities such as L.A. and New York from Texas were not bused there by Abbott; they paid their own way to cities where job opportunities are plentiful and the policy environment makes it easier to move through the world without papers.

“Punishing people seeking refuge flouts refugee law & plays into the hands of perpetrators of fear-mongering & invasion rhetoric who paint people seeking refuge as threats,” Eleanor Acer, refugee protection director at Human Rights First, wrote on X.

But as Abbott alluded to in his post, the Biden administration’s plan is not without precedent.

In 1988, President Reagan’s administration forced thousands of migrants to stay in south Texas while they awaited asylum processing. Migrants quickly set up camps in parking lots and abandoned buildings.

In January 1989, a federal judge ordered immigration officials to stop enforcing the policy while he assessed whether they had the authority to enact it, and the migrants filtered out to other parts of the country to pursue their asylum cases elsewhere.

But although the judge, Filemon B. Vela, temporarily blocked immigration officials from keeping migrants in Texas that January, Abbott is mistaken about the ultimate outcome of the case.

In February 1989, after President George H.W. Bush had taken office, Vela ruled in the federal government’s favor, holding that the government was within its power to keep migrants in south Texas while officials considered their asylum claims.

By that point, Bush administration officials had begun to shift strategies. Instead of allowing migrants to camp out in south Texas towns while they waited, the administration formally detained them. Single adults were held in the Port Isabel facility outside Brownsville, Texas. Families were held in a Red Cross shelter in Brownsville.

The Biden administration, however, has promised not to restart family detention — leaving the Bush-era strategy off the table, at least for the moment.

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