Abbott criticizes Biden over Times report that some migrants may be forced to stay in Texas

People climb over a barbed-wire fence
People scale a fence after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States in Eagle Pass, Texas, in August 2023.
(Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP/Getty Images)
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott slammed President Biden on Thursday over a Times report that Washington is considering forcing some migrant families to remain in Texas while they await asylum processing.

“This scam was tried years ago & was shot down by a judge,” Abbott wrote in a late-night post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “We will send Biden the same swift justice.”

The Republican governor, a fierce critic of the Democratic president’s border policies, has bused thousands of asylum seekers to Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and other blue cities since last year. He vowed on X to send “even more buses of migrants to Washington.”


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, center,
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, center, is joined by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, left, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, second from left, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, second from right, and Nebraska Gov. Jim Pollen, right, during a news conference along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass on Aug. 21.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Biden’s plan, which has not been finalized, would force certain migrant families to remain in Texas or possibly other border states, tracking their locations using GPS monitoring devices such as ankle bracelets.

But the plan has drawn the ire of immigrants’ advocates as well as border-state officials such as Abbott.

Migrants and their advocates have already laid out objections to the plan.

“When people cross borders their human rights come with them,” Marisa Limón Garza, head of the Las Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, said in a statement.

Politicians like Abbott and Biden “cannot continue playing games with the lives of thousands of children and families,” she added. “Migrants are not hot potatoes.”


Most of the migrants who have arrived in blue cities such as L.A. and New York from Texas were not bused in by Abbott; they paid their own way to cities where job opportunities are plentiful and policies make it easier to move through the world without documentation.

“Punishing people seeking refuge flouts refugee law & plays into the hands of perpetrators of fear-mongering & invasion rhetoric who paint people seeking refuge as threats,” Eleanor Acer, refugee protection director at Human Rights First, wrote on X.

Official bring new blankets into St. Anthony's Croatian Catholic Church in Los Angeles
Blankets are delivered to St. Anthony’s Croatian Catholic Church in Los Angeles in June after busloads of migrants arrived from Texas.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

But as Abbott alluded to in his post, the Biden administration’s plan is not without precedent.

In 1988, President Reagan’s Republican administration forced thousands of migrants to stay in southern Texas while they awaited asylum processing. The asylum seekers quickly set up camps in parking lots and abandoned buildings.


In January 1989, a federal judge ordered immigration officials to stop enforcing the policy while he assessed whether they had the authority to enact it, and the migrants filtered out to other parts of the country to pursue their asylum cases elsewhere.

Although the judge, Filemon B. Vela, did temporarily block immigration officials from keeping migrants in Texas that January, Abbott mischaracterized the ultimate outcome of the case.

In February 1989, after President George H.W. Bush had taken office, Vela ruled in the federal government’s favor, holding that the government had the power to keep migrants in southern Texas while officials considered their asylum claims.

By that point, officials in the Republican administration had begun to shift strategies.

Instead of allowing asylum seekers to camp out in southern Texas towns while they waited on their cases, the administration formally detained them.

Single adults were held at the Port Isabel facility outside Brownsville, Texas. Families were held in a Red Cross shelter in Brownsville.


The Biden administration, however, has promised not to resume family detentions — leaving the George H.W. Bush administration strategy off the table, at least for the moment.