After a dozen years of serving as Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott prides himself on knowing the law.
But now that the governor-elect of the Lone Star State is threatening to sue President Obama over his executive action to temporarily shield from deportation some categories of illegal immigrants, it’s obvious that the Republican is failing other subjects.
Abbott, who claims Obama’s immigration policy will disproportionally harm Texas, is foggy on the Constitution, executive power, immigration, geography, public policy, and current events. He could also use more common sense and a course in manners, since he’s quick with insults and often demonstrates a knack for saying the wrong thing.
And for someone who made an overt effort to reach out to Latino voters during his campaign—speaking Spanish and strategically deploying his Mexican-American wife, Cecilia, who grew up in San Antonio and whose grandparents were Mexican immigrants—Abbott could also use a deeper understanding of the community he’s trying to seduce. With his threat of a lawsuit, he’s attempting an awkward Mexican hat dance where he goes from courting Latinos in Texas to going to court to prevent more of them from entering Texas.
It is crucial for Republicans to reach out to groups that typically don’t vote for the GOP, but substance is what matters. All the chips and salsa mixers in the world won’t help an elected official who tries to make political hay out of policies that are supported by a majority of Latinos.
A new survey by the polling firm Latino Decisions finds that Obama’s decision to unilaterally re-prioritize deportations so that, for instance, the undocumented parents of U.S.-born citizens can’t be removed for three years, is supported by 89 percent of Latinos.
Ay caramba! Even as a Mexican American, my Spanish is probably not as good as Abbott’s. Tell me, Mr. Governor-elect, what’s Spanish for “the honeymoon is over?”
Abbott’s strategy is simple and cynical: Regardless of how Latinos feel about Obama’s use of executive action, it is not very popular with the rest of America. A new CNN/ORC poll found that—while most Americans agreed with the goal of keeping these families together—56 percent disagreed with the idea of the president acting unilaterally to accomplish it.
It’s pretty clear which group Abbott, who may harbor presidential ambitions for 2020, is trying to court now by threatening a lawsuit.
Any legal challenge would be a crapshoot given that several law professors and other experts on the Constitution have said that Obama is acting within his authority. But that’s not the point. Abbott isn’t trying to win in a court of law. He is only trying to get a head start among those Republicans who are eager to get political mileage out of fighting back against Obama’s executive action.
Certainly, Abbott isn’t the first opportunistic politician in America to cravenly latch on to the immigration issue to scare up votes. There’s a long list of politicians who have done so over the last 20 years, and they come from both parties.
But where Abbott goes wrong is in trying to connect DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability), enacted through the recent executive action, with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the program for undocumented youth that Obama unveiled in 2012. And then, once that connection is established, Abbott wants to take another leap and argue that DACA is solely responsible for the recent surge of more than 60,000 refugees from Central America—most of them women and children.
Simply put: Abbott is arguing that DAPA is like DACA, and that DACA caused the surge—which, he insists, put a heavy burden on Texas. Ergo, DAPA will cause another surge—and that future surge will likewise prove burdensome to Texas.
Here’s what Abbott is missing: DAPA applies to parents with U.S.-born children. So the only people who could conceivably think they might take advantage of it are additional waves of parents with U.S.-born children.
Those folks are hard to come by outside the United States. Besides, DACA didn’t cause the surge from Central America. That’s a popular misconception on the right, and it’s one that was—unfortunately for Abbott—resoundingly debunked when it was first raised during the surge.
For one thing, none of those children who crossed into the country last summer are eligible for DACA, because anyone who enters the country after June 15, 2007, does not qualify for the program. Besides, if DACA were to blame for the influx, it would have happened two years earlier when the policy was enacted. The real enticement for the refugees was a longstanding but unspoken policy by the Border Patrol to treat accompanied minors differently than adults and not immediately return them to their home countries.
Also, consider the timeline. By all accounts, the Obama administration first became aware of an unexpected surge in minors from Central America coming across the border as early as 2011, and DACA didn’t take effect until August 2012.
However, Abbott is not about to let cold hard facts get in the way of a little politically motivated demagoguery. He has dismissed arguments that new rounds of immigrants wouldn’t be eligible for either DACA or DAPA.
“Understand this,” Abbott recently told Fox News. “The people coming from Central America are typically not legal scholars who look into the depths of what the president is saying.”
Oh boy. Condescend much, Mr. Governor-elect?
Looking back, it’s beyond dispute that the real impetus for the Central American refugee crisis wasn’t something that Obama did but a piece of legislation signed into law by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. The 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act required that unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada not be immediately deported but placed with family members in the U.S. while awaiting a court date.
So, if anything, Abbott shouldn’t be suing Obama. He should be suing Bush.
Finally, Abbott seems to have forgotten what state he’s in. It’s silly for him to try to justify his legal challenge to Obama’s executive action by exploiting the anxiety of Texans over the anticipated arrival of immigrants in the future while ignoring the present reality.
Take it from someone who lived there for five years while writing for the Dallas Morning News: Texans don’t need to worry about new arrivals of immigrants, since they already have plenty of immigrants living among them. And while many Texans are too proud to admit it, those people are there because they’re doing jobs that Texans won’t do.
After he is sworn in as governor, Abbott should try to change that and challenge his fellow Texans to develop more of a work ethic. Then he could actually start making things better, instead of just making mischief.