Why Abbott’s empathy, so evident in Harvey, does not extend to those who may be deported with DACA’s demise

Texas Greg Abbott visited the Austin ISD Delco Center Saturday evening August 26, 2017 which has been opened as an evacuee shelter for those fleeing their homes from Hurricane Harvey and met Shirelle Franklin and her family who fled from their home in Victoria, Texas yesterday. She cries as she talks about their experience with the governor.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Good day Austin:

Today’s question: Why is Gov. Greg Abbott, who has proved to be so emotionally available and sensitive as Texans have suffered through the trauma and dislocations of Harvey, so emotionally distant toward the 120,000 Texans who may face the trauma and dislocation of the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA?

My guess is that he views the Texans harmed by Harvey – which of course would include Texans regardless of their immigration or citizenship status –  as innocent victims, that their often heroic and gritty response to their travail fits the Texas story that he is justifiably proud of and likes to tell, and that it’s politically uncomplicated and all good to embrace them.

To empathize with those protected by DACA, meanwhile, is politically more fraught. There are those immigration hardliners in Texas who Abbott counts among his supporters who bristle at applying the rosy appellation Dreamers on those they consider to be illegal aliens – period – and really want them gone and will brook no sentimentality about their plight.

Writ large, in this view, Harvey’s victims are family, while these Dreamers are not.

In rescinding DACA, the Trump administration has given Congress six months to come up with an alternative, and  I asked the governor at yesterday’s briefing on Harvey, if and how Congress should act to prevent mass deportations of individuals, many of whom have really known no other home but the United States.

ABBOTT: From the very beginning, it has been clear that the United States Constitution, on its face provides that the responsibility for immigration is assigned to the congressional, to the legislative branch of government, not to the president, and, as a result it the responsibility of the legislative branch of government to address the issue.

These are issues for the federal government and for the Congress. Again the architectural design is for the Congress to address it and it  is right for Congress to address it.  I expect the Congress to address it.

Listen, it is a multi-faceted challenge and issue for the Congress to address. What I, both as attorney general and as governor are looking for, is for Congress to play its role. As (U.S. House) Majority leader (Kevin) McCarthy pointed out, they want to tackle the issue. I think latitude needs to be given to Congress to tackle the issue.

This is a cooly bureaucratic, process answer to a question on which the fate of some 120,000 Texans may hinge.

Compare this to what Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republicans who is the majority whip in the Senate, said yesterday on DACA. Even as Cornyn made the same point as Abbott, he managed to describe DACA as “well-intentioned,” and to hold the DACA recipients blameless for their situation and to praise their “positive contributions to Texas and the nation.”

This policy, while well-intentioned, was implemented without the approval of Congress by a president who exceeded his authority under the Constitution. This President now has the chance to work with Congress towards finding a solution to this issue where his predecessor failed. These children who were brought here illegally through no fault of their own continue to make positive contributions to Texas and the nation, and it’s important for us to achieve a long-term resolution.

Ditto U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan.

The current DACA program, despite being well-intentioned, is another example of how former-President Obama abused his constitutional authority. The Constitution clearly states that the legislative branch is responsible for writing all laws; not the president. The decision to rescind this program now brings the important job of fixing our broken and inadequate immigration system into focus for Congress to work out a legislative solution. When it comes to the Dreamers, those children and young adults who are here through no fault of their own, I believe Congress should quickly find a solution to ensure they can stay in the United States, which for many is the only home they know. I look forward to working with President Trump and my House and Senate colleagues to improve our immigration laws and better secure our borders.

Even before Harvey, I was aware of Abbott’s capacity for empathy, ever since I saw him cuddling a puppy that survived the terrible 2015 flooding in Wimberley.

 

Perhaps more than Cornyn and Flores, Abbott has a lot of political capital invested in his opposition to DACA.

DACA – Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals – is a policy created by executive action by former President Barack Obama that protects nearly 800,000 individuals, more than 120,000 of them in Texas, who came to the country illegally before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012.

With DACA, they are protected from deportation and able to work legally. To qualify, they have to undergo a background check and certify that they had not been convicted of any serious crimes.

Abbott has been a long-time critic of DACA as a prime example of Obama’s unconstitutional executive overreach, and one of his last acts as attorney general in 2014 before becoming governor was to lead an ultimately successful effort by Texas and 25 states to go to court to stop President Obama from extending DACA’s reach through executive action.

But, consider how President Trump, even as he is doing away with DACA, has been emotionally profligate, if inconsistent, in professing his  love – yes love – for the Dreamers.

This coming from the same president who usually seems so bereft, even incapable, of normal human empathy.

It seemed on President Trump’s two visits to Texas since Harvey hit, it was Abbott acting as Trump’s  emotional guide to appropriate public displays of post-disaster affection, a mentor in the proper application of the pat on the back, the tearful hug and the caress of a child’s cheek.

Gov. Greg Abbott encourages emergency officials working at the State Operations Center on Friday August 25, 2017, in preparation for Hurricane Harvey. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump talk with children impacted by Hurricane Harvey during a visit to the NRG Center in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, also talks with children impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

And yet,  here is the president tweeting last night that if Congress can’t find its way to save the Dreamers, maybe he will.

Abbott, meanwhile, has been consistently unwilling to embrace the Dreamers or to talk about the issue in personal terms.

From his appearance on Fox New Sunday with Chris Wallace.

WALLACE: Finally, Governor, I want to ask you about the related issue. The president is going to announce on Tuesday, what he’s going to do about the DACA program. Texas has the second-most DREAMers of any country — any state in the country, second only to California. I know you have — when you were attorney general, opposed his Obama’s executive orders. What do you think about the possibility of the president ending at the DACA program, putting these DREAMers at risk of deportation, particularly those right now in the Houston area who you are just trying to help out and recover from the flood?

ABBOTT: Well, Chris, we need to recognize that this is really a symptom of a larger problem that remains unresolved. We wouldn’t have this whole issue about DACA if Congress would step up and pass immigration reform and do so in working with the president. We will continue to have challenges like this that lasted until both the Congress and president step up and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

WALLACE: Did you ask discuss DACA with the president yesterday? I know you had a lot — go ahead.

ABBOTT: I spent a lot of time talking to the president, not just yesterday but in his prior trip and over the phone. I got to tell you that what the president’s talked to me about exclusively is his compassion and commitment to helping Texans dig out of this hurricane and as a result, issues like DACA and other related issues never came up.

Flip the dial to ABC, and there was Abbott Sunday being asked the same question, in an even more personal way, by Martha Raddatz on This Week.

RADDATZ: Houston has one of the highest populations of so-called Dreamers in the country. We met one of them, 15-year-old Yasmine Madrano, as her family returned to their flooded out Houston home, which they just recently paid off.

YASMINE MADRANO: It’s a lot of work. Yes.

All the — our house is just crumbling down like that. It’s sad.

RADDATZ: Her family came to the U.S. when she was five. She just applied for DACA status. Now the stress of both Harvey and the president’s looming decision is taking its toll on her dream of becoming a surgeon.

MADRANO: My biggest fear is for us to get deported. For my family, after all the hard work that they have done, to just be thrown away and then go back to how we were. And for me, to not be able to study, not be able to work, it’s a lot.

And I still have to worry about going back to school, so it’s kind of stressful.

RADDATZ: I asked governor Abbott about Yasmin

She said she that doesn’t know what she’s more nervous about is flood or being deported. When should she stop being nervous?

ABBOTT: Well, that obviously would depend upon so many factors that are hard to predict right now. One would be what the president would do, another would be what congress would do.

So Martha, until Congress, until the United States, truly reforms our immigration system with standards that everybody knows and understands, that are enforced and applied, we will continue to deal with these very challenging circumstances.

RADDATZ: So, what would you say to that 15-year-old?

ABBOTT: The best place to get into is the United States of America. And we need to make sure we keep America, that shining city on the hill that people aspire to.

RADDATZ: So, it’s not with someone like her here?

ABBOTT: It’s going to be a standard that ensures that America will be the place that people aspire to and there will be ways if Congress reforms the immigration system, there will be ways in which America needs to continue to attract immigration through the legal system.

RADDATZ: The experience of Harvey has been a profound moment in a tumultuous year, showing the best of America, but also threatening to expose the cost of the rancor and division that has infected our political life.

You can see that in the faces of families like the Madranos  their uneasy existence in America ever more tenuous.

And in the uncertainty about Houston’s future and the hard questions facing this country. Will the spirit that got this city through the crisis last in the aftermath? Was Harvey a genuine watershed moment or will the underlying tensions tearing America apart rise again as the waters recede.

Telling a teenager that her deportation may be necessary to maintain America as a place people would aspire to immigrate to is a hard sell..

It’s also a cold  answer to a human question, but it has been his unwavering line.

It is a lawyer’s answer. And that may be it.

Abbott,  the former Texas Supreme Court justice, the former attorney general, answers DACA questions as a matter of law and Constitutional architecture, without even a nod toward the enormous, almost unimaginable upheaval that would occur in Texas and to Texas if there were any actual effort to deport any significant number of the 120,000 DACA recipients.

I don’t think even red Texas is prepared to see that happen.

Mass deportations would rip a hole in the fabric of Texas that would affect too many lives.

 

 

And here from the Texas Lyceum poll in 2015.

But Abbott may have concluded that  the politic thing to do is to say as little as possible, knowing that any expression of empathy will be seen as a sign of weakness for some in his base.

Without specific reference to “Dreamers,” a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from October 2016 found that two-thirds of Texas Republicans, and three-quarters of those who identified with the tea party, supported the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

And, perhaps the experience of his predecessor, Gov. Rick Perry is a cautionary tale.

When Perry ran for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, he was briefly the front-runner.

But while that campaign is best remembered for imploding in his embarrassing oops moment at a GOP presidential debate, before that, there was another, perhaps even more consequentially damaging debate moment when Perry, under attack from Mitt Romney, who went on to win the nomination, defended the Texas policy of providing in-state tuition at public colleges and universities to what have come to be known as Dreamers.

“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said, and his campaign never recovered.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz, who is up for re-election in 2018,  was notably quiet yesterday in response to the Trump administration’s DACA decision.

When he ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Cruz made doing away with DACA a prime directive of his campaign, and he was not one to be cowed by a direct confrontation with a Dreamer.

From Real Clear Politics   on Jan. 8, 2016:

Sen. Ted Cruz was confronted by a young woman who was legalized by the president’s DACA program at an event in Storm Lake, Iowa Wednesday night.

“As a DACA holder myself, I am worried about whoever comes next in the presidency and what’s gonna happen to people like us?” the woman said, in a video posted on YouTube by the Democratic National Committee. “I think of myself as a part of this community and, you know, first day in presidency you decide to deport, you know, people like myself — it’s just very difficult to process it.”

“I would note, if you’re a DACA recipient it means that you were brought here illegally, and violating the laws has consequences,” Cruz responded. “And one of the problems with our broken immigration system is that it is creating human tragedies and there are human tragedies when people break the law, but I can tell you what the law is in every country on earth.”

“If I illegally emigrate to England or Germany or France or China or Mexico, and they catch me, they will deport me,” he said. “That’s what every other country on Earth does, and there’s no reason that America’s laws should have less respect than the laws of every other country on Earth.”

“We should welcome people who come following the laws, but there are consequences for breaking the laws, and that is part of what makes America the nation that we are,” he said.

Cruz, like Abbott, would have to answer for any softening of his stance on DACA.

For those like Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who was Cruz’s most important ally and advocate during the Iowa caucuses, any compromise on DACA is a sell-out.

 

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