In a significant escalation of Governor Greg Abbott’s contentious immigration policy, Texas transported more than 120 immigrants from El Paso to Chicago on Tuesday, marking the first instance of the state utilizing planes for such transfers. This move is part of Abbott’s broader strategy of sending recently arrived migrants to Democratic-led cities that he has labeled as sanctuaries.
Since April 2022, Governor Abbott has directed buses filled with immigrant passengers to Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, and Los Angeles. This transportation policy, criticized for its political undertones, has been a consistent feature of Abbott’s response to immigration issues. The governor often uses these actions to mock city leaders who express openness to immigrants and to criticize the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
According to the governor’s office, over 80,000 individuals have been bused from border cities to the aforementioned Democratic-led cities as part of Abbott’s initiative. However, Tuesday’s flight to Chicago represents the first time that Texas has employed planes for such operations.
City officials in Chicago have responded to the influx of immigrant buses by cracking down on some drivers, alleging violations of municipal rules regarding passenger drop-off locations. Last week, the city impounded a bus due to the driver lacking the necessary license for passenger transport.
In defense of the expanded transportation efforts, Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Governor Abbott, cited Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s alleged failure to uphold the city’s “Welcoming City” ordinance. Mahaleris justified the increased operation by stating, “Until President Biden steps up and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue taking historic action to help our local partners respond to this Biden-made crisis.”
All migrants transported under this initiative have recently crossed the Texas-Mexico border, turned themselves in to immigration agents, and were released after background checks. The governor’s office asserts that migrants willingly accept Texas-sponsored transportation and sign a consent waiver.
Despite a 7% decrease in encounters between migrants and Border Patrol agents at the southern border in the federal fiscal year 2023, Texas remains committed to its proactive measures. Recent reports indicate a higher-than-average daily apprehension rate, prompting U.S. Customs and Border Protection to temporarily suspend operations at international railway bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso to redirect personnel.
Governor Abbott has pursued various tactics since March 2021 to deter immigrants from crossing the Rio Grande, including deploying troopers and National Guard members along the Texas-Mexico border to make arrests on trespassing charges. The ongoing controversy surrounding Texas’s immigration policies underscores the broader national debate on border security and immigration enforcement.