TEXAS VIEW: Abbott’s border wall gimmick isn’t tough

THE POINT: Truly tough Texans don’t just talk big, they lead.

Gov. Greg Abbott is a man with a plan. Responding to an influx of undocumented men, women and children trying to reach the United States through Texas, our opportunistic governor announced recently that he will build a great border wall!

Waves of the desperate will simply smash into its base like flotsam washed up at the foot of Galveston’s wall against the mighty sea. What a vision. What a lack thereof.

Any border intruder who manages to squeeze past Abbott’s Wall will be met with massive force. The Texas National Guard, local law enforcement, the Texas Rangers and the Department of Public Safety, presumably working in conjunction with the U.S. Border Patrol, will round them up like maverick cattle; they’ll be corralled in Texas jails before being shipped back from whence they came.

For border scofflaws tempted to try again, the sound of a locked jail door will be a grim Pavlovian reminder that you don’t mess with Texas.

“We don’t want just to arrest somebody to have them released,” Abbott said, lapsing into his tough-Texan voice. “We want to arrest somebody and have them prosecuted, to be put in jail, to stay in jail — to create an environment where people will choose they don’t want to come across the border into the state of Texas anymore, because it’s not what they were expecting, it’s not the red carpet that the federal administration rolled out for them. They are going to jail in the state of Texas.”

The fact that Abbott has even less chance of halting the flow of asylum seekers than former President Donald Trump, matters not. For Abbott, actually dealing with a national dilemma is of secondary importance.

The more immediate concern is a potential challenge from the rightist fringes next year by former state Sen. Don Huffines, a Dallas Republican who, if elected governor, has promised to finish Trump’s border-wall construction in Texas.

“We will completely shut down the border until the crisis is solved and eliminate all taxpayer-funded subsidies to illegal aliens,” Huffines said, lapsing into his own tough-Texan tweet mode. “I am not afraid to take on the federal government.”

Nor is he afraid to steal a perfectly good campaign gimmick that has proven effective for at least one long-shot candidate in recent memory. Any day now, Abbott will announce that the Texas Wall will be beautiful and that Mexico will pay for it.

Abbott’s border wall pronouncement is cynical, short-sighted, and irresistibly simple for people to understand.

In other words, it’s the exact opposite of Vice President Kamala Harris’ approach in visiting Guatemala and Mexico as part of the Biden administration’s effort to craft pragmatic and humane border-security policy that addresses the root causes of migration and not just the current symptoms. “Do not come,” she admonished would-be asylum-seekers.

The admonition was stark, sensible and desperately needed at a time when smugglers are exploiting confusion about the new president’s policies and spreading misinformation that America is encouraging migration.

The truth is that this nation is poorly equipped at the moment to handle huge waves of asylum-seekers or others seeking entry. It’s a problem that can’t be resolved immediately, with or without a wall.

There’s no denying that we have border problems. Arrests at the border have increased since President Joe Biden took office. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported roughly 180,000 encounters with persons crossing the Southwest border illegally in May, the highest monthly total yet.

Numbers are decreasing for migrant teenagers, for children crossing without parents and for family groups, while numbers for single adult migrants are increasing, with more than 121,000 apprehended last month. Most get “expelled” to Mexico, and many try again, numerous times. With our immigration system so backed up, many crossing the border no longer fear legal consequences or jail time if they are caught.

Harris’ visit was an acknowledgment that helping improve conditions in Central America is a key component of any serious immigration reform and border security effort.

Simply as a matter of self-interest (not to mention any humanitarian impulse we might feel), we should help fix the plague of gang violence, government corruption and ineptitude, and lack of economic opportunity in those countries.

No sensible American wants open borders. No sensible American wants thousands of desperate men, women and children showing up at our door after long, dangerous treks across Mexico atop railroad boxcars. No one we know wants vicious cartels smuggling illegal drugs into this country or merciless traffickers transporting human beings.

We presume that what most Americans want is a safe, secure border combined with immigration policies that are reasonable and fair.

It’s tough, we realize, for a Republican still clinging for dear career to Trump’s wayward coattails to consider bipartisan cooperation, but in the spirit of his fellow Texans — Sam Houston, Audie Murphy and Barbara Jordan come to mind — the governor needs to remember that truly tough Texans facing a truly tough challenge don’t just talk big.

Houston Chronicle