Texas’s Gov Greg Abbott used loopholes in federal law and insufficient federal oversight to ensure that at least $1bn of federal Covid funding meant for his state’s residents actually went to his controversial efforts to fight immigration.
A new report published on Thursday in The Nation reveals how the Texas Republican governor used money from federal Covid relief packages for his program designed to bus groups of migrants out of Texas and around the continental US. It’s a shocking direct decision to ignore the stated purpose of those funds that seems to have been made legal through loopholes allowing states to recoup lost revenues.
The Nation reports that an unnamed congressional aide (it wasn’t clear of which party) referred to Mr Abbott’s financial maneuvering of Covid funding as a kind of shell game; another expert explained that the governor had swapped out revenues from various state agencies with Covid-19 funding, then used those revenues (which unlike the Covid funding, was not bound to any purpose) for his immigration enforcement activities.
The result was roughly a billion dollars used to supplement those various programs launched by Mr Abbott. That included Texas’s own efforts to construct fencing along the US-Mexico border as well as the controversial busing plan. The busing plan has led to dozens of migrants being dropped off at a time in places like Washington DC outside of the vice presidential residence as well as the wealthy northeastern summer community of Martha’s Vineyard.
Mr Abbott wasn’t alone in approving the scheme. It was also signed off on by Texas Lt Gov Dan Patrick as well as members of the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.
Border security was not the only use of Covid funding by Texas’s government that had little to do with the pandemic; according to The Nation, funds were used in a similar manner to support the Texas Historical Commission Fund, a state aquarium, and even disbursed to a fund for victims of crime.
Mr Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star”, his name for the busing program, has generated outrage from officials in jurisdictions where the migrants are being dropped off. Many of these officials insist that the arrivals are occurring with little or no warning — something one would think would be a prerequisite for any operation that had the well-being of those involved in mind.
The busings (and subsequent media coverage) have served to drive immigration and border security (an issue the GOP clearly feels play into their favour) back into the national conversation just weeks before voters are set to decide which party will control the House and Senate next year.