Texas Gov. Abbott, nine GOP governors come to border to blame Biden for ‘humanitarian crisis and chaos’ – USA TODAY

Democrats denounced the visit to the border by the Republican governors as political gimmickry that sidesteps actual solutions.

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MISSION — With an array of military vehicles in the background, Gov. Greg Abbott played host to nine of his fellow Republican state chief executives under the blazing South Texas sun Wednesday to again call attention to what he says is an ongoing immigration crisis.

Abbott used the event, which drew some 50 media outlets from around the country, to escalate what has already been a withering barrage of criticism of President Joe Biden and his administration for rolling back many of the immigration policies of the Donald Trump years.

“President Joe Biden has caused a humanitarian crisis and chaos on our border,” Abbott said as the other nine governors looked on.

‘What keeps me up at night? Everything’: Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas to USA TODAY

The two-term Texas governor, as well as many of the others, linked the increased numbers of border crossings that have captured headlines and TV coverage for several months to an increase in fentanyl overdose deaths across the nation.

Much of the illicitly produced opioid narcotic is smuggled across the southern border and finds its way to cities and towns in virtually every state, they said.

Abbott also used the event, as he has at numerous recent news conferences along the border and in cities across Texas, to further burnish his credentials as an immigration hardliner as he heads into the 2022 election cycle where he faces GOP challengers to his right.

Texas Democrats, meanwhile, appear to be pinning their hopes on former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to challenge Abbott. The El Paso native hasn’t announced his intentions. During his close loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018 and in his short-lived bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, he consistently pushed for a more humane approach to immigration at the southern border.

More: How the Haitian migrant crisis shows flaws of a US immigration system in disarray

The event Wednesday carried a decidedly militaristic ambiance with 11 Humvees, two five-ton Army trucks and Army UH 60 Black Hawk helicopters stationed behind the speakers’ lectern. When Abbott, dressed in a khaki shirt with epaulettes, exited his vehicle within sight of a wide bank of news cameras, troops from the National Guard deployed to South Texas snapped to attention and greeted him with salutes upon the command of “present arms.”

The news conference was held at a sprawling pastoral setting inside the levee that protects nearby farming fields from flooding when the Rio Grande rises above its winding channel within sight of the Anzalduas International Bridge.

The 15-acre Anzalduas Park had been the site of a shelter site for up to 650 asylum-seeking migrants released from federal custody.

Other governors

The other governors in attendance were Doug Ducey of Arizona, Brian Kemp of Georgia, Brad Little of Idaho, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Greg Gianforte of Montana, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, and Mark Gordon of Wyoming.

The Democratic National Committee called the South Texas event a politically motivated distraction, saying they “stood idly by as Donald Trump spent four years destroying our immigration system.”

“If Republican governors want to make a statement about the border, maybe they can call on their Republican members of Congress to join President Biden and Democrats in working to rebuild and improve our immigration system instead of flying thousands of miles for a stunt designed to further their own political aspirations,” said DNC spokeswoman Adonna Biel.

The governors, however, said they are prepared to offer solutions. However, many of them involve reinstating now-discarded Trump policies, including resuming construction of the border wall.

Abbott also touted his own efforts, including the Legislature’s appropriation this year of more than $2 billion to boost state law enforcement presence in South Texas and to build sections of fencing near the Rio Grande.

Ducey, of Arizona, was the only governor there aside from Abbott to preside over a border state. He echoed his Texas counterpart’s assessment.

“The border situation is just as out of control in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said.

He cited increases in migrant apprehensions in Arizona this year.

“And it’s not just the people that are crossing the border. It’s the lethal drugs,” Ducey said.

Ducey was not sparing in his criticism of the Biden administration.

“There are people to blame for making America a more dangerous place: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and (Homeland Security) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas,” Ducey said. “It’s no secret anymore. They have created this crisis.”

Haitian migrants

In a news briefing in late September, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is approaching the immigration issue from a wide angle.

“It’s also about investing in border security, making sure it makes sense and we’re investing in it in a way that makes sense,” she said. “And creating an asylum processing system that is actually functional, which I think we all agree it’s not.”

Mayorkas, meanwhile, told the USA TODAY editorial board Tuesday the administration has learned much from the recent influx of Haitian migrants into Del Rio last month and will be prepared amid reports that another group might be on its way.

More: ‘We’re ready’: After issues in Del Rio, Mayorkas says DHS is prepared for additional groups of Haitian migrants

“It was most certainly a challenge that we had not encountered previously,” Mayorkas said. “And what we have done now, is we have developed plans that should something like that occur again, we’re ready for it.”

Before the governors arrived at the park, Abbott said they were given a private briefing by the Texas Department of Public Safety about what troopers and other law enforcement officers are encountering at the border.

DPS Director Steve McCraw later told reporters his officers are taking a proactive approach to border security and are not dependent on the federal government.

“We don’t need their permission to protect Texas,” he said.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.