Granderson: Texans don't hate migrants. Why do they elect such a cruel governor?


San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg didn’t hold back when criticizing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the migrant crisis at the border. During a recent NBC interview, he called Abbott’s policies racist and xenophobic — particularly Senate Bill 4, which allows an officer to arrest anyone suspected of entering the state illegally from Mexico.

It’s Abbott’s version of “stop and frisk.” The “suspicion” typically begins with skin color.

“We know that’s an open door to racial profiling,” Nirenberg said. He pointed out that his city has managed to process 600,000 migrants since 2021 without resorting to any policies as dehumanizing as that one.

That’s because Nirenberg isn’t the kind of Texan who would refer to victims of a mass shooting as “illegal immigrants,” as Abbott did less than a year ago. He wouldn’t target water breaks for construction workers as part of his immigration policy, as Abbott did. And Nirenberg certainly wouldn’t lament not being able to shoot migrants seeking refuge. Or have the state’s National Guard stop Border Patrol agents from helping migrants drowning in the Rio Grande. (The Supreme Court put an end to that effort on Monday, ruling that the state must let feds patrol.)

A mother and her two children recently lost their lives trying to enter the U.S. near the border town of Eagle Pass, which is about three hours south of San Antonio. Their deaths brought a fresh round of criticism for Abbott’s migrant policies — including from Nirenberg — but I doubt he cares.

Abbott was the first governor to weaponize migrants by busing them to other states. He was the governor who spent three hours at a fundraiser the night of the Uvalde shooting. He was the governor who didn’t attend a single funeral for any of the 21 Uvalde victims, some as young as 9.

Why would he care about the people who died near Eagle Pass, when not caring has won elections for him? Which brings us here: Who votes for someone as cruel as Abbott?

The short answer is: most Texas voters, because he’s been in office since 2015. The economy is strong, and the cost of living is relatively low. Most important, the same traits that make him notorious across blue America keep him in power here in the Lone Star State.

Now, if “racism” popped in your head, you’re not all wrong.

But it’s not the full story. And that’s where progressives tend to go wrong.

Abbott has a sense of urgency about the migrant crisis that registers with fair-minded Texans and that cannot be underestimated. Of course much of it is political theater. But it’s been a damn good show. President Biden has added to the drama with his conspicuous absence.

“Where is he?” Eagle Pass native Homer Squiveli asked. “Biden needs to see what is happening here in Texas.

“I’m not saying he doesn’t care. I’m saying he needs to act like it’s more important than what we’ve seen.”

The 27-year-old works near the park where the mother and children drowned trying to reach the U.S. Like many of the people I spoke with in the city’s business district this week, he expresses a lot of empathy for those living in conditions so desperate that they risk their lives to escape.

That reflects an awareness that’s woven into the fabric of this city of 28,000. A number of churches near that site, Shelby Park, offer services to newly arrived families in need. There are as many law offices in the area as places to eat. Locals talk about the familiar sound of low-flying helicopters patrolling the skies at night.

Still, the migrant numbers are unprecedented, and with that comes uneasiness even from some empathetic locals.

As much as Squiveli said he cares, he also reports hearing from family and friends about an increase in crime in the area. He said that in the parking lot of a supermarket, his sister was approached near her car by migrants asking for money. He said his mother’s neighbor was burglarized.

And the gun he carries is visible. But that doesn’t mean he supports what Abbott is doing.

“I think what the governor is doing is inhumane,” he said. “We welcome people here all of the time. As long as you don’t mess with people or their stuff, it’s all good.”

What’s not all good with him is the lack of scrutiny in terms of who gets to enter, which is why despite not liking what Abbott is doing, he said the governor has “got to try to do something.” That’s a sentiment I heard from others in Eagle Pass recently as well.

From my experience living in Texas and Arizona, what keeps cruel conservatives such as Abbott in office isn’t just prejudice. It’s also appearing to solve a major problem too many left-leaning politicians don’t make essential to their platforms. When border towns such as Eagle Pass and El Paso face a surge in migrants, residents there appreciate a politician who seems to take it seriously — even if they don’t agree with how he handles it.

The passage of SB4 has brought a lawsuit by the Justice Department asserting “states cannot adopt immigration laws that interfere with the framework enacted by Congress.” Of course, Texas fighting the Biden administration in court began in 2020, when the Texas attorney general sued to have the election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin tossed out. The Supreme Court tossed out that frivolous lawsuit.

“I don’t really like how cruel the governor is being,” one store clerk in Eagle Pass told me. “It’s like he keeps forgetting these are desperate people who are coming to us for help.”

And yet…

“Something has to be done,” she said. “I live a little way out, and it can be scary not knowing if people are out there, ya know?”

And these worries keep Abbott in office. Doesn’t matter if his attempts are constitutional or cruel. This month he announced more than 100,000 migrants had been relocated to other states, to “sanctuary cities.” That’s not any kind of solution for our broken immigration system, but for a lot of voters in Texas, it’s better than nothing.

@LZGranderson





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