Constituent policy

Abbott and O’Rourke at the Antipodes of Border and Immigration Policy

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke have different views on immigration and border policy, and they also prioritize the issue to markedly different degrees in their respective campaigns.

Immigration and border policy is a winning issue for Abbott, and he is constantly on the offensive. Immigration and border policy is a losing issue for O’Rourke, and he is mostly on the defensive.

Immigration is also a policy area that falls largely within the purview of the federal government, although that has not stopped Abbott, or his predecessor Rick Perry, from using immigration policy as a major part of their Texas gubernatorial campaigns.

Abbott’s approach to immigration and border security is clear. The governor wants to signal to voters in Texas that he is doing everything in his power to secure the US-Mexico border, due to what he and his allies would call the Biden administration’s failure to adequately secure the border. and to reduce the flow of undocumented migrants to the north. immigrants. While political consequences are probably a secondary consideration for Abbott when it comes to immigration and border security, to the extent that he can, Abbott wants to discourage illegal immigration by making it as difficult and uncomfortable as possible for immigrants without papers to cross Texas. -Mexican border.

To these ends, Abbott sent officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, or DPS, and soldiers from the Texas National Guard to patrol the border region, spends about $1.5 billion a year on security borders, encouraged Texas state and local law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants, and built part of the border wall. Survey data indicate
of these policies enjoy the support of between half and three-fifths of Texas voters. They are opposed by between a fifth and a third of Texas voters.

Immigration is also an issue that strongly motivates Abbott’s electoral base. More than 9 in 10 Texans — 94% — who plan to vote for Abbott say immigration and border security are extremely or very important to the decision-making process for their gubernatorial vote. Among the top 15 issues, immigration and border security come in second after inflation (96%) for Abbott voters. And 9 in 10 Texas Republicans support Abbott’s border security policies, compared to just one in 20 who oppose them.

More recently, Abbott provided undocumented immigrants with bus transportation (including meals) to major cities run by progressive Democrats: Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. And loudly complaining about the burden of the arrival of a few thousands of immigrants, Democratic mayors Eric Adams, Muriel Bowser and Lori Lightfoot are helping the Abbott campaign by boosting media coverage of Abbott and his immigration policies. Their complaints have also raised this rhetorical question on a national level: if a few thousand undocumented immigrants are a burden for cities with millions of inhabitants, then numbers 10 times greater for Texas cities such as Del Rio , Laredo, McAllen and Brownville?

Immigration and border security is a much trickier issue for O’Rourke.

O’Rourke is hamstrung by the fact that the Biden administration’s handling of immigration and border security is deeply unpopular among Texas voters, with 66% disapproving to 34% approving. Moreover, these Biden numbers are much worse than Abbott’s, as 56% of Texas voters approve of the governor’s handling of the border situation while 44% disapprove.

What makes this grim reality even more complicated for O’Rourke is that among likely Democratic and swing voters, Biden’s immigration policy is unpopular for opposing reasons. While some of these voters echo Republican criticism that the Biden administration has not done enough to stem the flow of illegal immigration and enforce existing immigration laws, another important segment of this audience voter believes the Biden administration did not act quickly enough to end the draconian measures. Trump-era policies such as staying in Mexico and Title 42 or finding a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who are forced to continue living in the shadows.

Nor are immigration and border security issues that excite and motivate likely Democratic voters in Texas. While among Abbott voters, immigration and border security ranks second in terms of being extremely or very important to voters’ gubernatorial vote decision, among O’Rourke voters , they rank last among the top 15 questions assessed. This underscores its low importance to O’Rourke voters relative to other issues such as voting rights, gun control, health care costs, racial equity and abortion. As a result, for the O’Rourke campaign, immigration is a second- or third-tier issue, unlike its first-tier status for the Abbott campaign.

O’Rourke’s key border and immigration strategy pivoted on two axes.

The first axis is its support for a safe, legal and orderly immigration policy and its call for a bipartisan consensus at the national level to finally obtain the adoption of a much-needed comprehensive immigration reform. For O’Rourke, this comprehensive immigration reform would involve, among other things, providing additional legal options to immigrants, such as a more robust guest worker program as well as a more effective and efficient family reunification process – from so that American citizens can bring their family members to the United States in months rather than years or decades.

The second axis is a criticism of Abbott for engaging in politically motivated stunts that cost Texan taxpayers billions of dollars badly needed elsewhere (education, health care) rather than supporting substantial efforts to immigration reform. These stunts include sending Texas National Guard soldiers to the border, where the cost to their personal and professional lives is significant, and the impact of their presence on the flow of undocumented immigrants is small; send DPS agents to the border where they spend much of their time sitting in their parked vehicles watching the border and spending more than $1,000 per person to send about 15,000 immigrants to Chicago, New York and Washington D.C.

Over the next five weeks, we can expect immigration and border security to be a major focus of the Abbott campaign, with campaign ads promoting the governor’s efforts to secure the border. and criticizing the Biden administration for handling immigration and border security. while linking O’Rourke to these unpopular policies. Given the positive reception in Texas, the negative reaction from progressive mayors, and the extensive media coverage received, we can also expect Abbott to continue busing immigrants to northern cities.

By contrast, the O’Rourke campaign is likely to spend relatively little time and money on the issue of immigration and border security, focusing its campaign efforts instead on education, gun control, health care and abortion rights. And insofar as O’Rourke discusses immigration policy, it will be to contrast his focus on substantive bipartisan conversation leading to comprehensive immigration reform with Abbott’s mostly publicity stunts, which have little effect on the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country and doing nothing to promote the repair of the broken immigration system of the United States.

Mark P. Jones is the Joseph D. Jamail Professor of Latin American Studies and a political science fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.