Zealously following the GOP dictate to inflict mindless, bloody cruelty on vulnerable people, Texas’ Greg Abbott has created a hellhole state that tortures migrants—razor wire “death traps” in the Rio Grande, troops pushing children back in the water, no drinks in extreme heat, bussed out of sight. It’s also killing workers and inmates, stripping health care and boosting harrowing, nonviable births, all in the name of “preventing (imaginary) bad things from happening.” To the ghoul in charge: They already are.
Despite the fact the “border crisis” is largely a political fiction drummed up by the right to distract and terrify—see the absence of a much-trumpeted flood of drug-dealing gangsters arriving on our shores after the end of COVID-era Title 42 restrictions—Texas has spent $10 billion, or nearly three times the amount proposed and rejected for state teacher pay raises, on an Operation Lone Star border-militarization project critics dismiss as a useless, multi-billion-dollar, “lacerating parlor trick” that consistently violates the human rights of desperate people fleeing violence the U.S. helped to create—while doing almost nothing to address a problem they symbolize.
The program employs over 10,000 ill-trained state troopers and Texas National Guardsmen in a hapless effort to stop would-be refugees from crossing the last 50 feet of a perilous, often thousand-mile journey on foot during the hottest summer in recorded history to seek asylum they’re legally entitled to under U.S. and international law—but which most won’t get. Now, Abbott’s newly barbaric escalation of tactics—concertina wire strung along and beneath the surface of the Rio Grande, “a death trap on the best of days,” and a floating barrier of barrels wrapped in netting and razor wire that can trap those trying to get under them—is “asking migrants and asylum seekers how much blood they’re willing to shed to have a chance at staying in America.”
Earlier this month, the savage truth of that (literal) blood-letting was revealed in a horrifying account in the Houston Chronicle that described troopers ordered to push small children and babies back into the Rio Grande to force them back to Mexico. The story quoted at length a trooper working as a medic who, disturbed by what he saw, emailed supervisors. He described a group of about 120 migrants, including women with nursing babies, exhausted, hungry, struggling near the shore: “We called the shift officer in command, and we were given orders to push the people back into the water to go to Mexico. We decided this was not the correct thing to do. With the very real potential of exhausted people drowning, we made contact with command again and expressed our concerns…We were given the order (to) get into our vehicle and leave.”
There was much more: Accounts of a four-year-old girl passing out from heat exhaustion after being pushed back by the National Guard; a 19-year-old pregnant woman doubled over in pain having a miscarriage while caught in razor wire; a 15-year-old boy who broke his leg trying to cross in deeper water away from the wire who had to be carried by his father; another boy “stuck on a trap” whose father badly cut his own leg trying to rescue him; at least 7 more people in one week needing “elevated medical attention,” including children with “lacerations” that required staples.
The email described other atrocities. Many of the migrants, desperate and tired, don’t swim well or can’t swim at all; there were already almost daily reports of drownings, and the concertina wire and massive buoys—what Rep. Joaquin Castro has called “death traps…something you would expect to see in a country like North Korea”—have increased that risk by forcing people into deeper, deadlier stretches of the river where even federal agents dubbed “border patrol saviors” by vengeful state goons can’t get to them. The week before, five people drowned: They included a mother and at least one of her two children spotted struggling to cross the river and going under; they were pulled from the water but later died, while the second child was never found.
A photojournalist documented another group frantically trying to get a baby, at one point face down in the water, to her mom on the other side. And even in this summer’s historic, 100-plus-degree heat, troopers have allegedly been instructed not to give water to thirsty migrants—an order, insisted the whistle-blowing trooper, that “needs to be immediately reversed.” “I believe,” he added in a model of understatement, “we have stepped over a line into the inhumane.” Days after the Chronicle piece, he was identified as Nicholas Wingate and praised in an editorial for having the courage “to show Abbott what a moral compass looks like.”
The new-found infamy around Abbott’s abuse of power—not just inhumane but illegal under a Rivers and Harbors Act that forbids installing barriers in waterways without federal authorization—has prompted the outrage it deserves. “Holy shit, razor wire,”wrote the ever-restrained Jeff Tiedrich. “What kind of fucked-up monster puts razor wire booby traps in a river?” The Greg Abbott kind, for whom cruelty is always the point, and if migrants just stayed in the crime-infested pits we’ve helped create they wouldn’t have to drown or collapse of heat stroke or endure miscarriages while caught in razor wire. The awful irony, notes Texas Monthly: Only about 1% of border “migrant encounters” are handled by Abbott’s thugs rather than federal agents; the focus of Operation Lone Star, near Eagle Pass, has seen the biggest increase in illegal crossings; and, “All that manpower is on the border to make a point—we are busy.
It is not intended to work as much as to be visible.” Decrying an obscenely cynical P.R. stunt, they cite a years-long series of videos and media appearances—trucks, boats, technology, talking heads—to show the state is “doing something,” in this case hyping the “fantastical belief” that razor wire will make migrants who’ve risked life and limb and kids to get here suddenly turn around and go home. That’s their vile “parlor trick.” “My God, what have we become?” asks Charlie Pierce. “If he were alive today, Dante would have added a few more circles.”
Pierce likewise blasts “the utterly soulless drones fluent only in ideological cliches and bureaucratic persiflage”‘ that is the response of Texas officials to the catastrophic suffering they’ve caused; Texas Monthly: “The faceless bureaucracy says that everything is fine. (Just as it did after Uvalde).” They are “investigating the claims” to “assess the situation,” “No orders or directions have been given (that) would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally,” “(Biden) has unleashed (chaos) on the border and we have a constitutional duty to respond to this unprecedented crisis” yada yada.
The DOJ threatened to sue, Abbott gave them the finger and (falsely) claimed “the sovereign authority to defend our border,” the DOJ sued, Abbott huffed we’ll see you in court and it’s all Biden’s fault, the DOJ asked a judge to order Texas to remove their death traps, Mexico said they’re pissed too, a GOP state lawmaker said the Chronicle story was “lies and half-truths” but if Abbott is in fact “taking a bolder approach to border security (to) repel illegal crossers, he has my full support” and bring on the cruelty, and a border official rejected a farmer’s request to take down razor wire on his property because orders are orders and, “We are preventing crimes from occurring; we are preventing bad things from happening,” which is Preemptive Fascism 101 if we’ve ever seen it.
There’s more. Abbott is still bussing migrants—now up to 20,000—to Democratic cities as a purely spiteful stunt. As a perverse solution to discrimination lawsuits for targeting migrant men, he’s started arresting migrant women, generously clearing out two state prisons for them. They will join another fave group of victims: This summer, Texas prisons have become hellish ovens of up to 149 degrees—with bottle water prices soaring—because just 30 of 100 are fully air-conditioned and the state, despite a $32.7 billion surplus, has spent more fighting in court against A.C. than it would cost to friggin’ install it. And thanks to Abbott’s brutish move to nullify local ordinances mandating regular water breaks for workers, others are dropping from the heat.
A postal worker just collapsed and died on his route in Dallas; in San Antonio, the mother of a 24-year-old construction worker who didn’t get to see his first paycheck before dying of heatstroke—a foreman said it was drugs—is suing the company, who never even called her. OSHA fined the company $13,052; they’re contesting it. And while Abbott’s now deemed “one of the dumbest people in the country” for believing a fake story about a fake festival in his own state that punished a country star for not hating gay people, he’s also one of the nastiest for stripping Medicaid coverage from half a million Texans, mostly children, many of whom don’t yet know it.
Finally, why Texas is a hell-hole Part 726: As doctors feared, the state’s “sick and twisted” new abortion strictures have fueled a spike in infant deaths as women must carry more non-viable pregnancies to term, with devastating results. In Austin, several Texan plaintiffs in a landmark lawsuit just became the first women in the country since 1973 to testify in court about being denied care under a draconian “trigger ban” despite life-threatening pregnancy complications. Amidst searing testimony recounting having to carry, deliver and grieve fetuses “incompatible with life,” they wept, sobbed, vomited.
A woman carrying twins learned one had a lethal fetal anomaly; the longer she continued her pregnancy with both, the greater the risk to herself and the other, healthy fetus. Doctors told another a miscarriage was “inevitable,” but they couldn’t induce labor while there was still a fetal heartbeat; she had to “listen to her heartbeat, simultaneously wanting to hear it and not wanting to hear it” until she descended into septic shock, and doctors delivered her dead daughter.
A woman who learned her fetus had the brain birth defect anencephaly and would be stillborn or quickly die was told, “You have no options” except to await labor. When her daughter Halo was born, she held her small body for four hours, hearing her gasp her first and last breaths, apologizing again and again. “I felt so bad,” she told the court through sobs. “There was no mercy for her.” Texas should change its motto: “No mercy. Much cruelty.”
Common Dreams has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 1997. They are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.