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There seems to be some confusion about what’s happening along the border in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott last week ordered state troopers to begin inspecting every commercial vehicle coming into the state from Mexico at more than two dozen international crossings.
Abbott claims these “enhanced safety inspections” are needed to check for human trafficking, weapons, and drugs coming in from Mexico. Federal authorities usually conduct these inspections but, says Abbott, given the dramatic increase in illegal border-crossings and the looming cancellation of Title 42, which for the past two years has allowed for the speedy expulsion of most illegal immigrants, another layer of inspections is warranted.
But the real purpose of the inspections is to grind commercial traffic at the border to a halt to put pressure on President Biden to deal with a border crisis that’s about to get exponentially worse. Abbott said as much in a press conference Wednesday with Samuel Alejandro García Sepúlveda, the governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo León, announcing an agreement to work together on border security.
Nuevo León shares a short 12-mile stretch of border with Texas just north of Laredo. But the capital of Nuevo León is the major industrial hub of Monterrey, whose business leaders no doubt want cross-border trade to return to normal as quickly as possible — hence the meeting between Abbott and García.
“Clogged bridges can end only through the collaboration that we are demonstrating today between Texas and Nuevo León,” Abbott said. “If you want relief from the clogged border, you need to contact President Biden and tell him to maintain the Title 42 expulsion policy that has been in place for years.”
So there you have it: the purpose of Abbott’s border inspections is not really to intercept weapons and drugs and human trafficking, it’s about snarling international trade and inflicting economic pain to force Biden to maintain Title 42.
The agreement with Nuevo León, like Abbott’s gimmick to bus migrants to Washington, is mostly for show. The details of the agreement are vague, but the general idea is that García’s government will step up efforts to deter illegal immigrants transiting through Nuevo León en route to the border. But because Nuevo León’s one international bridge isn’t a major crossing point for either commercial trucks or illegal immigrants, and because Mexico’s National Guard alone has the authority to arrest and transport illegal immigrants inside Mexico, it’s unclear how effective García’s efforts will be.
There are two things to note about all this. The first is that squeezing international trade at the border is one sure way to get the attention of powerful interests who don’t really care about record levels of illegal immigration as long as goods keeps flowing over the border.
The editors of the Wall Street Journal spoke for those interests Wednesday when they criticized Abbott’s inspections scheme as a misguided stunt that will only make the border problem worse. For them, the worst part of all this will be $5 avocados, as if cheap goods are more important than American sovereignty and security.
But guess who else thinks Abbott’s inspections are a misguided stunt? The Gulf Cartel, which set fire to four commercial trucks Wednesday afternoon on the entrance to the northbound ramp of the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, where on Monday Mexican truckers had staged a protest of Abbott’s inspections, shutting down all traffic on the bridge. The cartel wanted the protest to end and the bridge to open, and a few hours later it did, although the inspections in Texas continue.
The cartel wanted the bridge open because it uses commercial trucks to transport illegal drugs and migrants into the United States on an industrial scale. Days-long delays cost the cartel money, and it got tired of waiting. In this, at least, the cartels in Mexico and big business in the United States have something in common: they don’t care about crisis levels of illegal immigration so long as their products keep moving.
The second thing to note is that by targeting international trade and holding a press conference with Mexican governors, Abbott is opting for show over substance, which has been his approach to the border crisis from the beginning. As I’ve described in detail, his much-vaunted Operation Lone Star is nothing but elaborate (and expensive) political theater that has had no discernable effect on illegal immigration over the past year.
To be fair, enlisting the help of state governors in Mexico at least has the potential to help the situation at the border, depending on what those governors do. It certainly holds more promise than busing migrants to Washington or ordering the Texas State Guard to line up a bunch of SUVs on the north bank of the Rio Grande for a photoshoot.
But enlisting the help of Mexico represents a conceptual failure on Abbott’s part. If he thinks that outsourcing border enforcement to governors and state police forces in places like Tamaulipas and Coahuila is going to work, he has utterly failed to understand the problem at the border — a failure that President Trump, for all his correct instincts about the importance of border security, shared.
Put bluntly, northern Mexico is mostly governed by cartels and massive criminal organizations — de facto certainly, and increasingly de jure. Those organizations have no interest in putting a stop to illegal immigration because they are making billions of dollars charging fees to migrants who pass through their territory and over the Rio Grande.
The only thing that will ever secure the border and get illegal immigration down to at least manageable levels is a robust enforcement and deportation regime on the U.S. side of the border — one that doesn’t process migrants and release them into the United States, but sends them back into Mexico or flies them back to their country of origin. It is within Abbott’s power to create such a regime at the state level — that is, to bus migrants two miles south to Mexico, instead of 1,700 miles north to Washington. He has the resources and manpower and even a strong constitutional case for taking action, but this is the one thing he has so far refused to do.
Until he changes his mind, no amount of economic pain at commercial crossings, no photo ops with Mexican governors, or headlines about migrants getting bussed to Washington will change the brute fact about the border in south Texas: it is about to explode.
John Daniel Davidson is a senior editor at The Federalist. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Claremont Review of Books, The New York Post, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter, @johnddavidson.