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Texas Gov. Abbott defends remarks about stopping short of 'shooting' migrants

Mexico condemned the remarks, saying it denounced "all types of aggressive insinuations against a person’s life.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference in Eagle Pass, Texas in August 2023.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference in Eagle Pass, Texas in August 2023. Eric Gay / AP file

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday defended his comment that the state is doing everything it can to stop people from crossing the border illegally, short of shooting them.

On Jan. 5, Abbott said on the radio show of right-wing conservative Dana Loesch that Texas is using every tool and strategy possible to stop people at the border.

“The only thing we are not doing is we’re not shooting people who come across the border, because, of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder,” Abbott said.

Migrants Continue To Cross Southern Border As Washington Lawmakers Struggle To Find Solution
Immigrants wade across the Rio Grande while crossing from Mexico into the U.S. on Sunday in Eagle Pass, Texas.John Moore / Getty Images

At the tail end of Friday's news conference, which was on preparations for the upcoming inclement weather, Abbott said that in the interview with Loesch he was pointing out what would be illegal to do.

"I was asked to point out about where the line is drawn about what would be illegal and I pointed out something that is obviously illegal," he said, before quickly ending the news conference.

An audio clip of the comment was reported first by Heartland Signal, which posted it on X on Thursday.

Loesch had asked Abbott to explain the “hierarchy” of border control: “What can be done right up to the line, where maybe they would come and say, ‘Governor you are breaking the law?' … What is the maximum amount of pressure that you as governor can implement to protect the border?” she asked.

But critics said Abbott’s comment suggested he would sanction shooting people crossing the border if he could get away with it.

“The only thing stopping Greg Abbott from ordering law enforcement to shoot migrant women and children are murder charges,” Gilbert Hinojosa, Texas Democratic Party chairman, said in a news release and on X.

Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Relations office condemned Abbott's comments in a statement.

"Mexico expresses its absolute concern at any type of expression that encourages violent acts and the dehumanization of the migrant community," the statement said. "We respect human rights and denounce all types of aggressive insinuations against a person’s life."

When a reporter at Friday's news conference asked whether his comments could be seized upon by someone like the El Paso shooter, who in the summer of 2019 carried out an attack at a Walmart store that killed 23 people, mostly Hispanics. Abbott replied, "Absolutely not."

Abbott’s comments drew swift rebuke on Thursday from Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents El Paso.

“I can’t believe I have to say ‘murdering people is unacceptable,’” Escobar wrote on X, tagging Abbott. “It’s language like yours that left 23 people dead and 22 injured in El Paso.”

The gunman told police his target was “Mexicans” and that the attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Abbott came under fire after the massacre for sending out fundraising mailers, dated the day before the massacre, that decried immigration and told supporters, “if we are going to DEFEND Texas, we’ll need to take matters into our own hands.”

Abbott was facing other pushback against his homegrown immigration enforcement operations, dubbed Operation Lone Star.

Migrant crisis continues at the border between the United States and Mexico
Migrants prepare to cross the Rio Grande to reach the U.S. border to seek humanitarian asylum in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Jan. 2.David Peinado / Anadolu via Getty Images

In a document filed in its ongoing Supreme Court case against Texas, the Biden administration states that the Border Patrol is being denied access to a 2.5 mile stretch of the Rio Grande, where the state has erected razor wire.

The stretch includes Shelby Park, a city-owned park in Eagle Pass that the state took over on Wednesday morning. Border Patrol can't get access to a boat ramp or a staging area at the park that it regularly uses to evaluate and inspect migrants, the court document states.

Abbott said in the news conference that "Texas has the legal authority to control ingress and egress into any geographic location in the state of Texas. And that authority is being asserted with regard to that park in Eagle Pass, Texas to maintain operational control of it."

Also on Friday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker sent a letter to Abbott pleading for "mercy" and urging Abbott to stop busing people from the border to Illinois as it faces a dangerous winter storm and subzero temperatures.

"Chicago’s temperatures this weekend are forecast to drop below zero. Your callousness, sending buses and planes full of migrants in this weather, is now life-threatening to every one of the arrivals. Hundreds of children’s and families’ health and survival are at risk due to your actions," Pritzker's letter states.