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Greg Abbott’s New Border Strategy Works

The Texas governor's willingness to deal directly with Mexico has yielded results. Conservatives should take note.
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A few months ago I wrote that policymakers shouldn’t be afraid to coerce Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador into complying with security aims:

The socialist president lacks the political capital or leverage to protect the cartels from American wrath, presenting the U.S. with an opportunity to decapitate major cartels with minimal martial cost and potentially political benefits. Given the circumstances, the United States has no incentive to respect the will of the Mexican president.

Since then, we’ve witnessed a valuable test case in how realpolitik can improve cooperation and enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico Border.

On April 6, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct “enhanced safety inspections” of all commercial ports of entry to the State of Texas.

While Customs and Border Patrol already screens inbound traffic to the U.S., adding a secondary, rigorous screening had the intended effect of slowing international trade traffic to a drip’s pace.

Governor Abbott’s order, intended to create leverage for unilateral security negotiations with the Mexican governors of four estados, marks a new era in the Texan response to the endemic border crisis. Rather than deferring security concerns to federal agencies, Abbott is engaging in cross-border diplomacy outside the purview of both President Biden and AMLO.

Over the course of a week, the move left many drivers stuck in inspection lines for hours and even days. Impacted supply chains included deliveries of automobile parts, food, and other goods regularly imported to the U.S.

The Texas Tribune and scores of other left-wing newspapers protested the move, publishing a slew of articles decrying the governor’s order as a threat to local border economies and hammering Abbott for exercising what they view to be a federal power. The breathless reporting continued for the duration of the inspections until Governor Abbott announced renewed security agreements with the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas.

The Tribune’s headline reporting Abbott’s suspension of inspections (by then the Tribune had added an entire border-inspections section to their website) declared: “Abbott ends inspections that clogged commercial traffic at U.S.-Mexico border for more than a week.”

They followed up with snark, running a headline celebrating the “failure” of the inspections to discover drugs or illegal firearms despite the obvious conclusion that publicly enhanced inspections deterred traffickers and rerouted illicit shipments away from the targeted ports of entry: “What did Greg Abbott’s border inspections turn up? Oil leaks, flat tires and zero drugs.”

Below the snark, the Tribune reporters were forced to concede that Abbott’s exercise in unilateral, cross-border diplomacy and use of economic leverage had forced the hand of the Mexican governors.

Duly informed by their busybodies in Austin, the international left weighed in as well—first in the form of another pseudo-academic statement from Jen Psaki, and then one from Mexican President López Obrador: “Legally they can do it, but it’s a very despicable way to act.”

Despite the tough talk from AMLO, who labels others despicable while presiding over unprecedented corruption and crime, reporting in Texas summed up the feckless response of Mexico’s central government to Abbott’s demands.

Writing for the Dallas Morning News, Alfredo Corchado summarized Mexico’s political predicament:

Four Mexican states share a 1,200-mile border with Texas, including Nuevo Leon, which has a tiny portion some 9 miles in length. Chihuahua shares the largest stretch. Veteran political leaders expressed dismay at how five states — Texas, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Chihuahua — seemingly were left to fend for themselves when dealing with the brief trade crisis.

He continued:

In Mexico, the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador limited its response to tweets sent out by the foreign ministry and the minister of the economy. It wasn’t until 10 days after the trade crisis began that López Obrador described Abbott’s move as “despicable.”

He also added that the Mexican governors were “paraded” before Abbott at their summit to sign renewed security agreements and that they had acted in “obeisance.”

Well, of course. As is obvious to any observer, Mexico’s leadership wields little domestic political capital—and much less international political capital. Governor Abbott’s recognition of this, and his willingness to use the power of his office to coerce Mexican security cooperation should be celebrated. Six years on from an unrealized 2016 deal to enhance enforcement south of the Rio Grande, Abbott’s pressure is forcing his counterparts to follow through on their previous commitments. The revitalized deals include increased Mexican vehicle patrols, raises in law-enforcement salaries, and scholarships for the children of Mexican police officers. A separate agreement with Nuevo Leon also includes the institution of a new border checkpoint just west of Laredo, Texas.

But the Biden administration’s toothless obfuscation and Mexico’s limp protests aren’t Governor Abbott’s chief roadblocks. As should be expected, the Texas business lobby has put up the fiercest fight.

The Texas International Produce Association’s president, an advocate of both open-border trade practices and agricultural serfdom, issued a statement upbraiding the governor: “This is destroying our business and the reputation of Texas. I foresee companies making plans to move their business to New Mexico and Arizona.”

Cut off from the most profitable drugs that routinely cross America’s southern border—cheap labor and cheap goods—business interests were always going to line up on the side of continued chaos. Faced with the prospect of security, Texas businesses would rather relocate their operations to adequately anarchic regions of the southwest border. Noted.

They quickly found support with perennial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who provided a full-throated defense of indentured servitude. Speaking at a sparsely attended press conference at the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso he bleated that Governor Abbott had “hurt the people of Texas” and “especially the people of the border.” Truly rhetoric to stir the hearts of men (and donors).

Governor Abbott, to his credit, has remained steadfast amid the criticism and even left the door open to further, expanded inspection orders if his Mexican counterparts refuse to follow through on their commitments. For this unexpected display of leadership and rare tussle with the all-powerful business interests in Texas, the governor deserves the support and gratitude of conservatives. He’s proving that states can fight back against border lawlessness and win, even in the face of international political and business interests. It just takes backbone and a conservative willing to exercise available powers. Let’s hope the governor has more up his sleeve.