Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
The US southern border is once again front and center in the news this week. Migrant encounters hit their highest one day single record on December 5th when the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reported an astonishing 12,000 encounters in one day. 10,200 of the encounters were recorded between ports of entry. On Wednesday of this week, CBP reported having 22,000 migrants in custody with all sectors reporting numbers far over capacity. For fiscal year 2023, there were 2.4 million encounters, including a one month high of 240,000 in September of this year. The latest numbers we have – for November of this year – was 192,000 encounters reported by CBP.
CBP has now suspended railway operations at bridges near Eagle Pass and Del Rio due to the continued surge of migrants. In Del Rio alone on Monday, CBP arrested 3,000 migrants in one day. CBP is now redirecting staff from the rail entries to assist other agents with taking migrants into custody and processing. In Eagle Pass, vehicle traffic into the US remains suspended at International Bridge 1.
On Monday, Gov. Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law. This bill was passed during the recently concluded 4th special session that creates a state crime for illegally crossing the border and gives Texas law enforcement officials the authority to arrest anyone suspected of crossing into the country illegally. The bill has drawn praise from supporters who say Texas needs additional tools to combat illegal migration and control its border with Mexico. Opponents of the law say Texas has no standing to enforce immigration laws and the new powers given to law enforcement will lead to racial profiling. Immigrant rights organizations immediately sued to try and stop the law. In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal district court in Austin, the plaintiffs – ACLU and the Texas Civil Rights Project – say the federal government has the sole authority to enforce immigration laws.
For some background, an Arizona law passed in 2010 created a criminal offense for any legal migrant not to carry their immigration papers and required police to investigate the immigration status of anyone they deemed necessary to do so. In a landmark decision in 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled this law unconstitutional, saying local law enforcement officers do not have the authority to arrest or investigate anyone based solely on immigration status and said that is the sole authority of the federal government.
When signing SB 4 in Brownsville on Monday, Gov. Abbott said he welcomed any and all challenges to the new legislation and said that he is confident the US Supreme Court would revisit this issue and the Texas law specifically in favor of the states.
And there may be some credence to that confidence. On Tuesday, the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request by the state that bars CBP and other federal agents from cutting or moving razor wire that has been placed by the state on state owned property on a 29-mile stretch on the Rio Grande River near Eagle Pass. An Austin federal judge had initially ruled that the state could not interfere in CBP activities, but the appeals court differed, saying CBP agents must stop interfering with the razor wire on state owned land. This case will likely go all the way to the US Supreme Court as well.
More border related news. Gov. Abbott announced this week the state of Texas has flown over 120 migrants from El Paso to Chicago as part of the ongoing policy of transporting migrants out of Texas border cities to self-described “sanctuary” cities in other parts of the country. Since April of 2022, Texas has bused over 80,000 migrants to cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Denver, and Los Angeles. After Chicago city officials have recently cracked down on the bus drivers from Texas and began impounding the buses used to transport the migrants, the state decided to expand the operations by using air transport. The flight landed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and the city says they are attempting to find space to shelter the migrants.
Paxton Must Sit for Deposition in Whistleblower Case
In the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit – the basis for the impeachment trial this summer – a Travis County district judge has ruled that AG Ken Paxton and three of his top aides must sit for depositions in the years long case. Four of Paxton’s former top aides at the agency claim they were fired by Paxton after they reported allegations of abuse of office by Paxton to the FBI. A settlement agreement was reached prior to this regular session that would have paid the four whistleblowers a total of $3.3 million in damages and back pay. But when the legislature refused to pay the settlement, the agreement was voided. Paxton has argued that even though the legislature didn’t pay, the case was settled and should be dismissed. However, after Paxton was acquitted in his impeachment trial, the whistleblowers sought to revive the case. The Texas Supreme Court has also ruled that the case has indeed not been settled and can move forward. At a hearing this week, the judge in Austin granted the motion by the plaintiffs to compel Paxton to sit for depositions. The exact timing of the depositions is not clear, but the plaintiffs said they want to move very quickly. Paxton was served at an Austin restaurant on Wednesday. No word from Paxton’s team regarding further appeal of the ruling. However, since the state Supreme Court has ruled the lawsuit can move forward, appeals would do nothing but delay the inevitable.
Trump Poll Numbers
The University of Texas Political Project released a poll this week showing former President Trump is the favorite among 65% of Texas voters that plan to vote in the Republican primary in March. That is up from the 62% number from a similar poll conducted in October. Trump continues to lead all rivals by a wide margin. Ron DeSantis came in 2nd with only 12% and Nikki Haley was 3rd among respondents with 9%. So, the slight gains that Haley has seen in Iowa and New Hampshire have not been realized in Texas.
In projected a Trump vs. Biden race in November, Trump leads Biden by a 45% to 39% margin. Trump defeated Biden by 5.5% points in the 2020 Presidential election.
The UT poll was conducted from December 1st – 10th among 1,200 registered voters in Texas. The margin of error is 2.8%. For more in depth analysis and to see the other questions surveyed, you can see the poll here: https://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/blog/december-uttexas-politics-project-poll-after-long-legislative-session-texas-voters-have-not-so
As I conclude this update, I wanted to give you all a snapshot of the predicted travel numbers over the next 10 days, as we all travel to see family or go on vacation. According to AAA, at least 9 million Texans will take a trip this holiday season. That is a 2% increase over last year’s travel numbers. Across the country, it is predicted that 115 million will travel at some point between December 23rd to January 2nd. Specifically on Texas roads, AAA says December 23rd and 28th will have the most congested roadways. Please be careful and safe in your travels.
The same UT Political Project Poll referenced above shows Republican incumbent US Senator Ted Cruz leading all rivals on his way to reelection in 2024. Democratic Congressman Colin Allred is seemingly on track to secure his party’s nomination, with his lead over state Senator Roland Gutierrez increasing over the last few weeks. Allred is now favored by 28% of those respondents that say they will vote in the Democratic primary, compared to just 7% for Gutierrez. The 7% number is three points lower than the 10% support he received in the same poll in October. Cruz leads both Democrats by at least 16 points. For the general election, Cruz is the choice of 43%, compared to 27% for Allred and 15% for Gutierrez.
Three Democratic Dallas area state representatives – Julie Johnson, Jessica Gonalez, and Ana Maria Ramos – have endorsed the challenger to incumbent Democratic Rep. Shawn Thierry of Houston. Thierry came under fire this session with many members of her party for siding with House Republicans voting in favor of legislation that bans gender affirming care for transgender minors and another that bans transgender women from playing women’s sports. She also voted with Republicans in favor of legislation banning books in public schools that contain “sexually explicit” materials. The three incumbent representatives are joining Thierry’s opponent in calling for new representative that better reflects the views of the Democratic party.
AG Ken Paxton released more endorsements this week in what is being called his “impeachment revenge tour”. In 10 House Republican primary races, Paxton has endorsed the opponents of incumbents that voted to have him impeached. The endorsements are for the opponents challenging several prominent members such as Ways and Means Chair Morgan Meyer of Dallas, Agriculture Committee chair Briscoe Cain of Baytown, Higher Education Committee chair John Kuempel of Seguin, and Elections Chair Reggie Smith of Sherman.
With the holiday season in full swing, I will take the next week off from any updates. As always, I will let you all know of any major developments in the meantime.
Have a very, Merry Christmas and a happy and very prosperous New Year. Please, everyone be safe and enjoy friends, family, neighbors, and all that the holiday season has for you.
Counting my blessings, and I look forward to 2024!!