Mar 9, 2021
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference in Mission, TX Transcript March 9: Border Security
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference in Mission, Texas to address border security on March 9, 2021. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.
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Governor Greg Abbott: (00:00)
… onto the Texas side of the border. We saw an ICE detention center as well as other holding facilities. And obviously we are at this location now. In my briefing, I had the opportunity to speak to leaders at national… local levels. I do want to thank people who are with us here today. They include the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw. General Norris, the adjutant general in charge of the National Guard in the state of Texas. As well as the national president for the Border Patrol council, Brandon Judd. I thank them for being here, but also, especially, for our state team members for their leadership in the Texas Operation Lone Star. Let me begin by making one point very clear. There is a crisis on the Texas border right now with the overwhelming number of people who are coming across the border.
Governor Greg Abbott: (00:59)
This crisis is a result of President Biden’s open border policies. It invites illegal immigration and is creating a humanitarian crisis in Texas right now that will grow increasingly worse by the day. In getting information in my meeting with the Border Patrol, I learned these things, and that is one of the reasons for this crisis that has led to a dramatic change in just a few months, is the change in policy. There was a policy that people who had come across the border illegally would be returned across the border. And there was also the Remain in Mexico policy. With the elimination of those policies, that led to a dramatic increase in the number of people coming across the border. Second, the Border Patrol told me that they did inform the Biden administration and let them know that this influx was coming. So it’s not as if the Biden administration didn’t know about it, and it’s not as if they didn’t have time to get prepared for it.
Governor Greg Abbott: (02:05)
But it is clear they are completely unprepared for what is going on in the border now. And they’re going to be even more unprepared for what will be happening in the coming months. What the Border Patrol told me… And this is actually part of the cartel strategy. Because of the volume of people coming across the border, the Border Patrol that makes the arrest, they have to engage quite literally in babysitting. And while they’re doing babysitting, that provides an opportunity for the cartels to be able to bring other people across the border illegally. More about the cartels in a second. Two factoids that the Border Patrol shared with me. Just this calendar year alone, there’ve been more than 800 criminal aliens apprehended. Those were criminals, violent criminals, who had been previously arrested in the United States and deported who came across the border again. Among those included 78 sex offenders and 62 gang members, including gang members from MS-13.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:15)
And know this. Cartels, they are ramping up trafficking across the border. They’re exploiting women and children. And they are overwhelming Border Patrol resources. The Border Patrol has made it very clear to me the way this strategy works. The cartels, they are involved in every single one of these border crossings that we see. But more important, the cartels are even more involved in the crossings that we do not see. The strategy of the cartels is to overwhelm Border Patrol agents and law enforcement officials and when the Border Patrol agents are so completely overwhelmed, it’s during those moments that the cartels will bring across the border even the more dangerous elements. It could be people who are violent criminals. Or it could be people who are from what are called special interest countries. Those are countries that’re… raise concerns about the danger they may pose to the United States, such as people coming from countries like Iran and Iraq, China, as well as elsewhere.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:28)
The cartels are quite literally being enriched because of the policies that are being used by the Biden administration. The Biden administration is helping the cartels make more money and grow more power. They are allowing smugglers who are members of the cartel on the Mexican side bring in narcotic smugglers, special interest settings, as well as drugs that include fentanyl, cocaine, and opioids. One thing that is clear from all the observations and all the information that I’ve been able to gather, and that is we need more ICE detention facilities in this area immediately. The Border Patrol simply is not either given enough resources and do not have enough resources to be able to deal with this overwhelming tidal wave of people who are coming across the border. Let me be clear. Border Patrol has a role to play. The role that Border Patrol plays is they’re the ones who have to make the arrest and make the detention.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:42)
Then the responsibility goes to ICE. It is up to ICE to detain, to test and to quarantine anybody who’s coming across the border who may have exposure to COVID. The Biden administration does not want to talk about ICE. The Biden administration is joining together with progressives pretending that ICE is going to go away or be eliminated. ICE is essential in this entire process and we expect the president and the Biden administration to step up, fully fund, and actually add additional funding to the ICE program, as well as provide ICE with every tool and strategy they can provide them to make sure that they’re going to be able to play the role they must play when people do come across the border. Also, let me make this very clear because what I’m about to tell you is maybe one of the most reprehensible things I’ve heard this whole time. The Biden administration is not providing vaccinations for the Border Patrol. We have Border Patrol officers whose lives are on the line on a daily basis, an hourly basis.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:48)
And the Biden administration will not step up and provide those Border Patrol officers with the vaccinations they need. The Biden administration should surge vaccines to Texas to all men and women on the Border Patrol this week and assure that every Border Patrol officer in the state of Texas will be vaccinated this week. Anything less than that is the epitome of inhumanity. It’s also clear, has being clear long before this administration, that the border related issue is the federal government’s job, but Texas is not going to shy away from stepping up and filling the gap that the federal government has left open. I’ve told you some of the stories, and there are so many more. My phone has been ringing off the hook from ranchers in this region and the regions west of here about the dramatic increase in the number of people who are crossing their ranches and causing mayhem on their ranches. You’ve got business owners, you got homeowners, whose lives are being completely disrupted. And the Biden administration does not care about those ranchers, those homeowners, and the peoples whose lives are being disrupted. He does not care about Americans.
Governor Greg Abbott: (08:12)
He cares more about people who are not from this country. I need the Biden administration to step up and start providing the safety and security that Texans and Americans deserve. What Texas is doing with the help of the Texas National Guard, as well as with the Texas Department of Public Safety, we have launched Operation Lone Star. This is an operation that’s going to be similar to what we’ve done in the past where we provide a surge of resources to the border. The reason why you see these patrol cars lined up behind us, because that is exactly what the Texas Department of Public Safety has done in the past whenever we have seen the surge of people coming across the border. This is an example of what you’re going to see up and down the border. And let me be clear about something. One reason why we are surging Operation Lone Star at this time is because we know what is coming behind all the people who are crossing the border today, and that is the caravans that are seeking to come here.
Governor Greg Abbott: (09:19)
And Texas is sending a message to any caravan and to any cartel member. We’re ready. We’re waiting for you. If you dare step into the state of Texas, Texas will use every tool or strategy we can to arrest anybody who’s violating the law, to put behind the bars anybody’s violating the law, to make sure that the laws in the state of Texas are going to be enforced. If you are a caravan or you’re a cartel, you better take your activities to some other place because they will not be accepted in Texas. We will work to step up and try to fill the gap that the federal government is leaving open by making sure that we deploy every resource, whether it be Texas Department of Public Safety, National Guard, whatever we need to do. Texas is going to fight for the safety and security of our state. To help provide you more information about that, I will call up now the director of the Texas department of public safety statement, Steve McCraw.
Steve McCraw: (10:19)
Governor, thank you for your leadership. Clearly, make no mistake about it. The cartels, as the governor said, are trying to exploit Border Patrol by overwhelming them. When they do, they move methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, heroin between the ports of entry, plain and simple. And they move ammunition and weapons south, and they also move cash south. It’s plain and simple. And there’s no question that Border Patrol, properly resourced, properly staffed, equipped with the right equipment and technology can secure the Texas-Mexico border. As the governor said, it’s a sovereign responsibility of the federal government to do so. In the absence of that, it impacts not just in terms of Texans in the border region, but Texans everywhere. And quite frankly, everybody internationally.
Steve McCraw: (11:08)
I mean the cartels, if you’ve got a drug problem in New York city, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco or Chicago, you’ve got a border problem because the cartels dominate the drug and human smuggling market. And I can tell you another thing. As long as cartels are allowed to lure, to entice, to bring women and children into the United States, they’ll be preyed upon. And the depravity of the Mexican cartels is unseen by any organized crime group ever. And what they do, the brutality would shame ISIS in that regard, in terms of what they do. They’re a domestic security threat to the government of Mexico, they’re the enemy of Texas, they’re the enemy of the United States. Governor, thank you for your leadership.
Governor Greg Abbott: (11:52)
Thank you. And now Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard.
General Tracy Norris: (11:58)
Thank you, sir. Currently the Texas Military Department, your Texas-
Governor Greg Abbott: (12:02)
Please just step over to the middle a little bit. [crosstalk 00:12:04].
General Tracy Norris: (12:02)
I’m sorry. I didn’t want to move right in front of you.
Governor Greg Abbott: (12:02)
Oh no, you’re fine.
General Tracy Norris: (12:08)
We are deploying over 500 soldiers at this time. We are going to be in support of the Texas Department of Public Safety. We will be doing observation posts on along the area that DPS designates for us. Currently, we already have planners embedded with DPS and we currently have soldiers already training for these events in order to establish observation posts later this week. We have been supporting the border for our governor and then for our federal and state partners for over 15 years. Actually over a hundred of the soldiers that are going to be on this mission came off of the border at the end of last year. So we already have experience there, again. And one last thing I’d like to do very quickly is I’d like to thank the employers of our citizen soldiers for everything that they’ve supported them to do over the last year, which includes our COVID response, response to hurricanes, and even a response to last winter weather. So I want to thank the employers and their families for supporting our Texas citizens soldiers. And we are Texans supporting Texans. Thank you, sir.
Governor Greg Abbott: (13:15)
Thank you, General. And last will be the national president for the Border Patrol Council, Brandon Judd.
Brandon Judd: (13:23)
Thank you, Governor. It’s very interesting and refreshing to be able to speak with an elected official that the first time that you meet with him… I’m sorry. Prior to this, out here with us today, all he wanted to know was facts, no rhetoric, no opinion. He wanted to know facts. As a 23 year veteran of the Border Patrol, having been called upon to testify before Congress on 19 different occasions in the last five years, more than any other individual on border security that I’m aware of, he wanted to know facts. And I appreciate that. This is not a Republican versus Democrat issue. This is an issue that affects the American citizens and Governor Abbott wants to be at the forefront. He wants to work across the aisle to fix this issue once and for all. He brought up the simple fact that policy today is allowing cartels to enrich themselves.
Brandon Judd: (14:19)
It’s allowing cartels to prey upon the innocent. Women, children. Cartels, because of current policy are allowed to go into countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and they’re allowed now, because of policy, to advertise their services. Encourage women and children, to put themselves in the hands of these dangerous individuals that Commander McGraw talked about. We’re seeing the abuse. We’re seeing the rape. We’re even seeing the murder of these innocent individuals because policy is allowing them to generate profit. Our policy should be about the American citizens, the US citizen and its protection. When we look at that, there are simple solutions. We saw under the Trump administration, the Migrant Protection Protocols, the Remain in Mexico policy. It drove illegal immigration to 45 year lows. It cut into the criminal cartel’s profits. Now that the MPP has been done away with without replacing it with a policy that would address the same issue has caused illegal immigration to explode.
Brandon Judd: (15:43)
We have re-introduced that magnet that invites people to come here to the United States illegally. This is not about legal immigration. Simply put, the Biden administration, if he wants to call the Migrant Protection Protocols inhumane, there’s other things that he can do. Hire judges. Adjudicate the asylum process immediately. Allow those individuals that have a legal claim to be in the United States to stay in the United States, deport those that do not have a legal claim. Hold these individuals in custody, get rid of what has been dubbed the catch and release program. That is what draws people to cross the borders illegally. That is what is causing the innocent people to put themselves in the hands of these dangerous cartels. Work with the governors like Governor Abbott, who cares deeply. And I have had the opportunity to speak with him on multiple occasions.
Brandon Judd: (16:46)
He cares deeply about the innocent women and children and wants to support the legal immigration, not illegal immigration. Give us judges. Adjudicate the asylum process as people enter the country, and we will fix the illegal immigration system that works here. Again, I want to thank Governor Abbott. I want to thank him for his leadership and being at the forefront and working on this issue. One interesting point of note, there’s no other governor, whether it’s New Mexico, Arizona, or California on the southwest border that provides more resources than Governor Abbott at this particular issue. He targets this issue because he understands the importance to the Texas people and what it means to secure that border that is right there. Again, governor, thank you very much.
Governor Greg Abbott: (17:40)
Thank you. We’re going to take questions here in a second. One second. I want, I want to talk about two other facts real quick and y’all come on up here. Two of the facts. I want to thank you for recognizing the resources that Texas is providing. It’s very important that I also emphasize that the reason why we have the resources that Texas can provide is because the Texas legislature funds those resources. So I express my gratitude to the Texas legislature for stepping up to address this problem that their constituents are so concerned about.
Governor Greg Abbott: (18:13)
The last fact is this. I was told this in our meeting earlier, and it shows you how much of the problem has escalated this year. I was told that in all of last year in the Rio Grande Valley sector, there were about 90,000 apprehensions. I was told that already this year in just… What? January, February, and half of March, there have already been 108,000 apprehensions. And so you can see that we are on a scale of where it’s going to more than double or triple or maybe quadruple or quintuple the number of apprehensions made just in the Rio Grande Valley sector alone because of the new policies of the Biden administration. With that, I’ll take a few questions.
Speaker 6: (18:56)
[crosstalk 00:18:56] Governor, are you going to insist federal government offer to use grant money for COVID tests for migrants?
Governor Greg Abbott: (19:01)
So that is what you call a deflection by the federal government because the federal government has the money. They can fund two federal programs to do that. The way that has done, the entity that’s in charge of retaining and providing testing and quarantining any migrant who comes across the border is ICE. The Biden administration refuses to talk about ICE because they want to pretend it’s going to go away, but they can provide that funding, the testing supplies and equipment directly to ICE and it’s ICE that administers those tests while the people who are here illegally are in holding. And I fully expect the Biden administration to stop playing word games and step up and do their job. Immigration is a federal government responsibility. The federal government has the responsibility to fund the testing of anybody coming here who does have COVID and it is ICE, not the state of Texas, responsible for administering those tests.
Speaker 7: (19:59)
Sir, have you spoken to local politicians about what’s happening here on the border? Because last week, Secretary Mayorkas came, the delegation from the White House. Apparently, no local leaders were invited. Today, did you meet with any local officials? What’s involved with your action?
Governor Greg Abbott: (20:12)
So our office, in one way or the other, it could be either me, my chief of staff, or agencies in the state of Texas, such as the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas Department of Public Safety. We remain in constant contact with local officials in this area, whether it be county judges, mayors, or law enforcement officials. And I’m speaking both for myself as well as agencies that are part of the state of Texas.
Speaker 8: (20:38)
Hi, this question’s for DPS if that’s all right.
Governor Greg Abbott: (20:41)
Speaker 8: (20:45)
So yesterday, no… I’m sorry. Last week we reported on a increased presence in Starr County for DPS. One of their main concerns at the local level is they won’t see what they saw five months ago when DPS start their [inaudible 00:20:54] and they were citing residents for minor infractions and right now the economy, as you all know, is very delicate and still bouncing back. Is there a kind of balance that DPS [inaudible 00:21:06] will have you create when determining who [inaudible 00:21:06] and what?
Steve McCraw: (21:14)
Yeah, we’re not. Although the surge right now that the governor ordered is being done by the 500 troopers that were assigned to the border, they’ve been a part, they’re part of the communities that live here, work here. And we’ve extended our work hours. We moved them from different locations, but they’re part of the community. So some of the issues you heard about several years ago will be non-existent. If there’s any complaint whatsoever, please contact us because we’re there to protect the public, to protect Texans. And that’s it.
Speaker 8: (21:45)
And just a follow-up if you don’t mind.
Steve McCraw: (21:45)
Speaker 8: (21:49)
The Operation, like you said, there’s 500, but they were already here, so that doesn’t mean there’s going to be troops in other areas?
Steve McCraw: (21:54)
Right now, there’s over a thousand, nearly 1200 officers that are being used. And the governor has a discretion to deploy within those border regions at any given… I won’t put a caveat there. We may need to, the governor may need to direct us to put more resources at certain low places that are based for a number of reasons that Border Patrol can’t properly staff it. So that’s a public safety, but I can assure you that the manner, the way we do these operations, is really about crime prevention. It’s not enforcement, it’s not writing tickets, not citations, not… It’s about crime prevention. And the best way to do that is at the river and highly visible resources, including troopers, but also tactical boats, a special operations group. And we leverage technology, not unlike that UAV you see back here. We’re using those as well. The aircraft that the legislature’s provided, the governor supported in terms of the helicopters, fixed aircraft. So they have given us some resources that we can use all those capabilities and the department does.
Speaker 9: (22:53)
Governor Greg Abbott: (22:53)
Also, Jose, I want to answer both of these questions also. It’s very important to understand that what the Texas legislature has done, they provided every session $800 million for the state to be able to address the border crisis. And through that $800 million, it has allowed the Texas Department of Public Safety to hire additional officers dedicated for the purpose of focusing on the border. Second, I want to send a message to Starr County, to Hidalgo County, to Cameron County, to every county, that the purpose of DPS officers is not to target Texas residents. It’s to protect Texas residents. And they are here to make sure they do everything they can to go after the cartels and the cartel activity and making the community safer for Starr County, for Hidalgo County, for Cameron County, et cetera.
Speaker 10: (23:46)
Governor, at the beginning of your [inaudible 00:23:47] had to do something with [inaudible 00:23:48] flying over some kind of walking over. Can you expand that detail?
Governor Greg Abbott: (23:53)
Sure. So we saw, as they were departing a raft, in an account that was made by the helicopter pilot, there were about 21 people in this particular group. And it looked like it would be what would be categorized as family units. They were in groups of adults and some kids of different ages. The reason why I say so-called family units, I don’t know if they’re family members or not. We do know that sometimes they are family units. Sometimes they are children who do not belong to a family, but it was both adults and children, a total of about 21 people.
Speaker 10: (24:28)
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:28)
And this was… They were walking up a dirt road after getting off a raft. It was pulled back to the Mexican side.
Speaker 10: (24:37)
And just to follow up on that, [inaudible 00:24:37] Secretary Mayorkas [inaudible 00:24:40] was stated earlier, no media was allowed to be part of that and nobody really… sort of found out that last minute. Does that send a message that the fear of COVID is so great, it’s sort of hiding what’s taking place [inaudible 00:24:52]?
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:52)
I do believe the Biden administration wants to downplay the severity of what’s going on. And that’s clear from the fact that, from my knowledge, the president has not recognized the role that ICE plays in this entire process. Another thing that we saw in our helicopter ride was that we saw the ICE detention center, and it’s a very large facility. And that is exactly what the federal government has to fund with the dramatic increase in the number of people who’re coming across the border. However, because of federal laws, it is essential that the federal government also provide additional funding for judges, for magistrates, who can adjudicate all of these cases to comply with the timeline standards that are required by the federal laws.
Speaker 11: (25:38)
Two more questions.
Speaker 12: (25:38)
Okay, I have a question-
Speaker 13: (25:40)
Governor, can I follow up on that? Can I follow up on that?
Speaker 12: (25:41)
… So why aren’t agents getting vaccinated with first responders?
Governor Greg Abbott: (25:45)
So Border Patrol agents, obviously, they work for the federal government and they should be provided vaccines by the federal government. The federal government has made a priority of vaccinating other federal employees that are not on the front lines like the Border Patrol. And that’s why I have this expectation that the Border Patrol agents who are on the frontline be treated like other federal employees who’ve already been vaccinated by the federal government. And that’s why I demand that the president send vaccines to the Border Patrol this week to vaccinate our Border Patrol agents.
Speaker 11: (26:16)
Speaker 13: (26:20)
Governor, if you were president in 2024, which some of us hope that you are, what’s the first thing that you would do to enact something down here?
Governor Greg Abbott: (26:27)
Secure the border. Period. Thank you.