Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has created a big problem in Texas — and made it a national pressure point.
It has to do with an additional, onerous round of border checks that Abbott imposed last week on cargo entering the state from Mexico.
Abbott, who is up for reelection, has framed the policy as one of border security. He has described the checks — which are redundant next to the federal customs and border protection requirements already in place — as necessary in the the face of the Biden administration’s supposedly lackluster approach to border enforcement. It’s a Fox News talking point brought to life: a Texas governor taking the law into his own hands.
But the stunt has resulted in traffic jams of up to 30 hours, threatening to worsen inflation in critical areas, including food and other basic products.
Below are five points on the crisis that Abbott is manufacturing.
Abbott ordered unnecessary extra checks on cargo coming across the Mexico border.
Abbott announced on April 6 that he was ordering new “enhanced safety inspections” of vehicles entering Texas via the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ostensibly, the checks are in response to the Biden administration’s decision to end of Title 42 — a Trump-era Department of Homeland Security order that used the COVID-19 pandemic to justify expelling migrants who may be seeking asylum.
The Texas governor marshaled the long-held fever dream that bands of drug cartels threaten the U.S. with invasion as he justified his order.
“The Biden Administration’s open-border policies have paved the way for dangerous cartels and deadly drugs to pour into the United States, and this crisis will only be made worse by ending Title 42 expulsions,” Abbott said.
The checks themselves are burdensome and, industry officials say, redundant.
“We agree that safety and security are paramount, which is why the inspections of commercial trucks by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are considered to be the best in the world,” Fresh Produce Association of the Americas President Lance Jungmeyer told Abbott in a Monday letter. “Texas has some of the most secure Commercial Ports of Entry anywhere along the U.S. border. Officers use sophisticated technology to see through the trailers and catch illicit cargo and prevent human smuggling.”
It’s caused huge delays, spiking food and other prices in an election year.
The result has been massive increases in delays for cargo to enter the U.S. from Mexico via Texas.
Border Patrol on Tuesday gave a sampling of how wait times have increased at different crossing points: Columbia bridge in Laredo, Texas hit a wait time of 300 minutes, compared to its usual, 26 minute average. In El Paso, wait times have been as long as 335 minutes, compared to 52 minutes normally.
Many of the trucks that are delayed are filled with perishable items, farmed in Mexico. Those includes avocados, strawberries, and other items that quickly rot.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday accused Abbott of “obstruct[ing]” the work of Customs and Border Protection, saying that “Governor Abbott’s actions are impacting people’s jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families.”
Abbott is going beyond his powers to mess with the national economy…
What Abbott has created is a system of secondary checks, state-level restrictions added on to the normal customs controls that already exist along the federal border between the United States and Mexico. The checks, manned by Texas state police officers, exist just beyond the end of federal checkpoints.
Abbott’s policy was enacted with Title 42 in the backdrop. The end of the policy has been cited, often by those on the right, to stoke fears of a massive influx of illegal immigrants. The result of Abbott’s gambit has been to fuse the immigration issue with another national political headache for Biden: inflation.
As a result of the delays at the border, more than 80 percent of perishable goods have been unable to cross from Mexico into Texas, the Fresh Produce Association said in its letter to Abbott.
“If DPS inspections stopped today, it would take over a week for the supply chain to return to normal,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, the loss of inventory, freshness, and sales will never be recovered, and these losses are a direct economic loss to Texas companies, and lost sales to their customers around North America.”
…and with foreign policy.
The one instance in which Abbott has let up is telling.
On Wednesday, the Texas governor announced a deal with the Mexican state of Nuevo León: in exchange for ending the safety checks, Mexican officials will conduct their own safety checks and, critically, ensure “our 14 kilometers of border with Texas will be continually patrolled with our police,” the Nuevo León governor said in a statement.
Abbott himself has framed it as a victory not of state policy, but of national and foreign policy.
“Until President Biden enforces the immigration laws passed by Congress, Texas will step up and use its own strategies to secure the border and negotiate with Mexico to seek solutions that will keep Texans safe,” Abbott said.
Abbott is the true heir to February’s trucker blockade of the northern border.
Back in February, a group of Canadian truckers reached the crescendo of their protest by blocking key transport nodes along the U.S.-Canada border.
The most high-profile of these blockades was at the Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor. TPM reported on the Capitol insurrection attendee who took credit for thinking up the idea to use transport bottlenecks as a pressure tactic.
Abbott appears to have learned a lesson from this and innovated on it, using the power of the state to apply pressure for his own political hobby-horse. Instead of strawberries and avocados being blocked, in his rhetoric its drugs and illegal immigrants.
“We will use any and all lawful powers to curtail the flow of drugs, human traffickers, illegal immigrants, weapons, and other contraband into Texas,” he said last week.