Tensions between the Texan state government and the Biden administration escalated last week over the coronavirus pandemic and Washington’s immigration policies. In addition to this, Gov. Greg Abbott is seeking to stop Big Tech from silencing Texan conservatives.
On 3 March, Joe Biden denounced Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to re-open the state and end the mask mandate as “Neanderthal thinking”. The governor retorted that it was “not the type of word a president should be using”, lambasting the White House for “releasing immigrants in South Texas that have been exposing Texans to COVID”.
Opening Texas Up
The war of words came on the heels of Joe Biden’s 26 February visit to the Lone Star State after winter storms that swept across the country between 10 and 17 February put a curb on the state’s power, food, and water supplies. Still, it appears that the president has failed to soothe relations with the state’s Republicans, who earlier challenged his victory in four swing states – Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – by filing a suit with the Supreme Court in December, albeit to no avail.
Likewise, the Texan governor and attorney general withstood Biden’s executive order signed on day one of his presidency stipulating a 100-day pause on the deportation of illegal immigrants. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately filed a lawsuit against Biden’s moratorium, arguing that it would inflict financial harm to the state. On 24 February, two days before Biden’s trip to Texas, a federal judge put an indefinite halt to the president’s 100-day ban on deportations.
Similarly, Abbott’s decision to completely open up the state also came in contrast to Biden’s CNN town hall mid-February prognosis that things could return back to normal probably “by next Christmas”, despite the vaccine roll-out in the country.
For their part, Texan Democrats accused Abbott of being “irresponsible”, with US Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, suggesting that the governor is being guided by political ambitions:
During his tenure, Trump insisted on the necessity of opening up and restarting the economy. GOP Governor Ron DeSantis lifted all coronavirus restrictions on 25 September 2020. For its part, South Dakota never issued a stay-at-home order or required businesses to close; however, the governor implemented COVID emergency measures which are due to stay in place through 30 June 2021.
As of 7 March, Florida and South Dakota’s coronavirus positivity rate amounted to 12.3% and 11.4%, respectively, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre. Texas is reported to have a 14.7% positivity rate, while California, the state known for months-long strict pandemic measures, saw a 10.5% COVID positivity rate late last week.
Texas business leaders unanimously praised Abbott’s executive order, stating that the governor had struck “the right balance by removing the heavy hand of government” and allowing businesses to operate: “As other states in the country keep restrictions in place, Texas will spearhead the economic recovery under Governor Abbott’s leadership and with the aid of the Legislature”, stated Invest Texas Council Chairman Ron Simmons.
A migrant family crosses the border into El Paso, Texas, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.
Operation Lone Star & Anti-Censorship Bill
Having rejected Joe Biden’s criticism with regard to the state’s handling of COVID, Abbott raised the alarm over the federal government’s immigration policies, which saw an influx of asylum seekers into the state amid the pandemic.
Abbott is also at odds with the Biden administration over testing migrants who may have COVID. According to The Texas Tribune, the Department of Homeland Security has proposed to assist local officials in testing asylum seekers released from federal custody under the president’s orders.
However, the Texan governor axed the plan, stressing that border security is “strictly a federal responsibility”, and that it’s up to the Biden administration to “test, screen, and quarantine” COVID-positive migrants.
“Instead of doing their job, the Biden Administration suggested it did not have the sufficient resources and, remarkably, asked Texas to assist them in aiding their illegal immigration program”, the governor said in an official statement, adding that “Texas refused”.
On 3 March, The New York Post reported that at least 108, or 6.3%, of the illegals who received rapid tests at Brownsville bus terminal after their arrival in Texas since 25 January were tested positive and later released.
Since assuming office, Joe Biden has reversed many of Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Meanwhile, more than 296,000 undocumented immigrants were apprehended on the southern border from October 2020 through January 2021. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has warned of a considerable upsurge in immigration during the past few months, as cited by The Post.
To tackle the influx of illegals, Abbott kicked off Operation Lone Star on 5 March. According to KFOX14, the operation brought together the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard, which deployed air, ground, Marine, and tactical border security assets to prevent Mexican cartels and other smugglers from moving drugs and people into the state.
Meanwhile, an East Texas Republican, Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Canton), introduced a bill on 3 March envisaging the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) finishing former President Trump’s border wall project using state funds.
On the top of this, on 5 March, Abbott signalled his support for a bill that prohibits US Big Tech from censoring Texans based on the viewpoints they express: “I thank Senator Hughes for offering SB 12 to help protect Texans from being wrongfully censored on social media for voicing their political or religious viewpoints”, the governor told a press conference last Friday.
During and after the 2020 election, Silicon Valley giants stepped up shadow-banning and censoring conservatives who doubted the fairness of Joe Biden’s win and criticised the 46th president’s reign.
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