As anyone who has entered the US through one of its major airports will know, it is a country which believes in vigorously policing its borders. The experience is excruciating: a long wait as you shuffle slowly towards passport control, closely watched by cameras and grim-faced border officials who snap at you if you step out of line, while at the other end you are photographed and fingerprinted and asked questions about where you just came from and how long you intend to stay.
Unless you enter via the southern land border, that is. Down there, things are a bit more laissez-faire. Sure, if you really want to come in via one of the official checkpoints then someone will inspect your documents and register your entry. But if you’d rather skip that formality, the feds won’t do much to stop you.
As a result, an estimated six million migrants have entered the US the “unofficial” way over the past three years — equivalent to the entire population of Scotland, with another half-million thrown in for good measure. Texas, which takes a dim view of Joe Biden’s de facto open (southern) border policy, has responded by bussing some of these new arrivals to Democrat-controlled “sanctuary cities” and putting up razor wire along parts of the US-Mexico border. Although there isn’t much the Biden administration can do about the buses, it has tried its best to keep the borders open, ordering Border Patrol agents to cut the wire.
The ensuing dispute went to the Supreme Court, which sided with the Federal Government’s right to cut the wire. What happened next, however, was very interesting. On 24 January, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a letter in which he proclaimed that Biden was a “lawless president” and that since the Federal Government had refused to protect the states from invasion, this had triggered Texas’s constitutional right to self-defence — so the Texas Guard continues to put up razor wire.
At first this seemed a very “Texas Republic” move to me, harking back to the state’s period of independence between 1836 and 1845 which left a strong imprint on the Texan mentality. But then I read Abbott’s letter and was struck by how American it was: there were no references to Texas heroes like Sam Houston, only to Founding Fathers James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
Other Republican governors were quick to show support: within 24 hours a total of 25 had issued a joint statement supporting Texas’s constitutional right to self-defence. Unsurprisingly, no Democrats have joined them so far, while progressive hero and notorious three-time loser Robert “Beto” O’Rourke urged Biden to take control of the Texas guard.
In today’s highly polarised political environment, it is easy to imagine how this latest manifestation of the Red/Blue divide might provide fodder to peddlers of fanciful narratives about an impending civil war. However, one shouldn’t be so sure: given how vociferously Democrat mayors object whenever Abbott sends them buses full of the very people they had previously declared welcome, I suspect that most of them are starting to rather regret the whole sanctuary state thing. It was fine when it was just about vibes and appearing righteous, but not so much when they were taken at their word.
Of course, no Democrat leader would ever dare say such a thing out loud. But perhaps, deep in their hearts, they are secretly grateful that Abbott chose not to back down but to escalate, and to push the border crisis to the limits.