As howls from sanctuary cities grow louder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is stepping on the gas in his busing campaign, shipping another 10,000 migrants to the big Democrat-led cities in just the last two weeks.
Eighteen months after the first bus arrived outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Mr. Abbott’s campaign has reshaped the immigration debate, delivering the pain of the Biden border surge to communities that had previously been insulated.
He now has sent more than 55,500 people to six sanctuary cities, with New York now surpassing Washington as the lead destination, with more than 20,000 migrants. Chicago is second, at 15,000 migrants; Washington is third, with 12,500; and Denver, Philadelphia and Los Angeles combine for another 8,000 or so.
Mr. Abbott also has ordered more work on his state’s own border wall, and earlier last week he convened his state’s Legislature for a special session to come up with laws to penalize illegal immigrants, seeking to give police and National Guard troops new tools to stop the record-breaking flow of people.
The Republican governor has dubbed his efforts Operation Lone Star, and it has made him the chief foil to President Biden, who Mr. Abbott says has imposed policies that have transformed the border from relative calm under the past administration to more chaotic than it’s been in a century.
Emilio Gonzalez, who ran U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Bush administration, said Mr. Abbott has forced the rest of the country to confront that reality.
“Immigration in general was always a very amorphous concept. When people talked about immigration, they would talk about their cardiologist who’s from India or their daughter’s soccer coach who’s from Argentina,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Now you have border governors saying, ‘You want to see what immigration is like? We’ll show you.’”
“Now those poor people are parked in front of their house, and that’s the big change. Because as long as you didn’t see it, you didn’t care,” he said.
Washington was a logical first target for the busing. On April 13, 2022, a bus pulled up at Union Station, just across Massachusetts Avenue from the Capitol campus, and migrants from Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela piled out.
Thousands more would follow, most to Union Station, but some were dropped off in front of Vice President Kamala Harris’s official residence at the Naval Observatory. In August 2022 New York City and Chicago got added to the list of destinations, with Philadelphia following in November, Denver added this May and Los Angeles in June.
Mr. Abbott picked sanctuary cities, whose policies prevent cooperation with federal immigration authorities, to make a statement.
The pace of buses has ebbed and flowed, but Mr. Abbott has kicked things into a higher gear over the last month with more than 17,000 migrants. Roughly 10,000 of those came in just the last two weeks.
Texas has budgeted nearly $10 billion through 2025 for the full Operation Lone Star effort.
The sanctuary jurisdictions that Mr. Abbott has targeted called his busing offensive and inhumane, particularly after a 3-year-old died in August on a bus headed to Chicago. The girl reportedly had multiple viral infections, though there is a dispute over whether Texas officials were aware of her condition before she was allowed on the bus.
Mr. Abbott’s office didn’t respond to an inquiry for this report, but the governor’s aides have previously said all migrants sign a waiver making clear they are voluntarily getting on the buses and know where they are headed.
Initially the sanctuary cities talked a good game, saying they would show Texas how to welcome “asylum seekers.”
But as the numbers grew, the cities acknowledged they were unable to handle the load.
The cities still gripe about Texas, but now they also complain about Mr. Biden — which was Mr. Abbott’s goal. And the reason is obvious — New York says it has welcomed some 125,000 migrants since last spring, only 20,000 of them by way of Texas’ buses.
Still, the Democrat-led jurisdictions want Texas to stop. The Los Angeles City Council voted late this summer to explore a lawsuit against Mr. Abbott and to investigate whether Texas has committed any crimes.
In addition to the bused migrants, the governor says Operation Lone Star has helped apprehend more than 475,000 illegal immigrants and make 35,100 criminal arrests. Texas law enforcement also says it has seized enough fentanyl to constitute more than 432 million lethal doses.
The governor’s office says that’s a service to the whole country because those drugs otherwise would have spread throughout the nation.
But Human Rights Watch says there’s no evidence Mr. Abbott’s Operation Lone Star has made a dent in the flow of people. The group also said making it tougher to cross the border is jacking up the price migrants must pay to the cartels to be smuggled over the border, effectively funneling more cash to the cartels.
Bob Libal, a Texas-based consultant to HRW, panned Mr. Abbott’s call for stiffer state laws, saying Texas is duplicating what the feds already do but without the resources and training to do it right.
“Besides being duplicative, this callous proposal is totally contrary to human rights standards that prohibit governments from deporting refugees to persecution or punishing refugees for illegal entry,” Mr. Libal said. “State police are not qualified to hear asylum claims or deport people. Their job is to protect public safety.”