Days after being elected Texas governor in 2014, Greg Abbott called a staff meeting to discuss his vision for leading the state.
“Our number-one priority as public servants is to follow the law,” Abbott, who served as Texas attorney general before he was elected, told staffers, according to his autobiography. Adhering to the law was “a way to ignore the pressure of politics, polls, money and lobbying.”
The Republican governor-elect said he rejected the path of Democratic President Barack Obama, whom he had sued 34 times as attorney general. Abbott claimed that Obama had usurped Congress’ power by using executive orders, including one to protect from deportation young people born in other countries and brought to the United States as children.
Now, nearly eight years into his governorship, Abbott’s actions belie his words. He has consolidated power like no Texas governor in recent history, at times circumventing the GOP-controlled state Legislature and overriding local officials.
The governor used the pandemic to block judges from ordering the release of some prisoners who couldn’t post cash bail and unilaterally defunded the legislative branch because lawmakers had failed to approve some of his top priorities. He also used his disaster authority to push Texas further than any other state on immigration and was the first to send thousands of immigrants by bus to Democratic strongholds.
Abbott’s executive measures have solidified his conservative base and dramatically raised his national profile. He is leading Democrat Beto O’Rourke in polls ahead of the Nov. 8 election and is mentioned as a potential 2024 GOP presidential contender. But his moves have also brought fierce criticism from some civil liberties groups, legal experts and even members of his own party, who have said his actions overstep the clearly defined limits of his office.
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine has opened an investigation into whether southern border state governors misled immigrants as part of what he called a “political stunt” to transport them to Washington.
Racine told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune his office is examining whether immigrants were deceived by trip organizers before boarding buses for Washington, including several hundred who were bused from Texas under instructions from Gov. Greg Abbott and dropped near the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. Racine’s office has the authority to bring misdemeanor criminal charges or to file civil fraud cases.
Racine said that in interviews with his investigators, arriving immigrants “have talked persuasively about being misled, with talk about promised services.” He offered no specifics about the inquiry, including whether it is being handled by his office’s criminal or civil divisions. The attorney general’s office declined to answer further questions.
Various state and federal laws could apply to transporting immigrants across state lines. Racine’s office could look into whether anyone committed fraud by falsely promising jobs or services, whether there were civil rights violations or whether officials misused taxpayers’ money.
The Department of Justice is investigating alleged civil rights violations under Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar border initiative announced last year by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, according to state records obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.
The Legislature last year directed more than $3 billion to border measures over the next two years, a bulk of which has gone to Operation Lone Star. Under the initiative, which Abbott said he launched to combat human and drug smuggling, the state has deployed more than 10,000 National Guard members and Department of Public Safety troopers to the border with Mexico and built some fencing. Thousands of immigrant men seeking to enter the country have been arrested for trespassing onto private property, and some have been kept in jail for weeks without charges being filed.
Since the operation’s launch, a number of news organizations, including ProPublica and the Tribune, have outlined a series of problems with state leaders’ claims of success, the treatment of National Guard members and alleged civil rights violations.
The committee investigation comes more than two decades after U.S. regulators identified the deadly risks posed by portable generators and six months after an investigation by NBC News, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune found that federal efforts to make portable generators safer have been stymied by a statutory process that empowers manufacturers to regulate themselves. That system has resulted in limited safety upgrades and continued deaths. Maloney repeatedly cited the news outlets’ findings in her letters to company executives.
Federal prosecutors reached a settlement agreement this week with the construction company that built a troubled private border fence along the Rio Grande in South Texas.
The settlement caps off two and a half years of legal wrangling after the federal government sued Fisher Industries and its subsidiaries, alleging that the 18-foot-tall and 3-mile-long fence led to erosion so significant that it threatened to shift the border and could cause the structure to collapse into the river, impacting a major dam.
Under the agreement, the company must conduct quarterly inspections, maintain an existing gate that allows for the release of floodwaters and keep a $3 million bond, a type of insurance, for 15 years, or until the property is transferred to the government, to cover any expenses in case the structure fails.
Experts told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune that the settlement provides insufficient protection to the Rio Grande’s shoreline and leaves too much discretion to the builder when it comes to maintaining and inspecting the bollard fence.
“They’re putting Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids to fix the initial problem that they caused,” said Adriana E. Martinez, a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville professor who studies river systems. She said the settlement does not require enough from the company to prevent additional flooding or damage from the fence.
The settlement lets Fisher Industries select the places along the fence to inspect for damage, decide what triggers some repairs and reject any proposed changes to the maintenance plan suggested by the government. It also allows the company to police itself instead of requiring a third-party inspector, said Amy Patrick, a Houston forensic structural and civil engineer and court-recognized expert on wall construction.
“It appears as though they are trusting the contractor far more than I have seen other contractors trusted,” she said.