Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Greg Shames the Sheriff


A version of this story ran in the December 2015 issue.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who once bragged about suing the federal government, is now chastising the Dallas sheriff for not being compliant enough with federal immigration policy.  Patrick Michels

I’m aware that Donald Trump is running for president. I wish I weren’t, but here we are: A man so odious he got himself fired from his own reality television program is now steering national discussions about public policy, staking out an immigration stance so far to the right that his next bankrupt casino hotel is liable to be built somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

What I can’t figure out is what Greg Abbott is running for. The man is the governor of Texas, which means he’s already secured a coveted position as one of our country’s foremost clowns. And yet he’s taken to parroting Trump-style anti-immigrant talking points — filtered through an oily layer of Ted Cruzisms — concerning “sanctuary cities.”

Instead of focusing on the business of governing the state — I take this aspect of his job as a given, considering the man’s title, though it seems I may be mistaken — Abbott has gone huffing and puffing at Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez’s door, accusing her of not being compliant enough with federal immigration policy.

This is the same Greg Abbott who bragged during his tenure as attorney general that his job consisted mainly of suing the federal government. Now he’s scolding a county sheriff — ever so coincidentally, the state’s only lesbian Latina sheriff — for not showing proper deference to the feds, who want local officials to hang on to any undocumented immigrants in custody until immigration agents get around to picking them up.

Well, which is it, Governor? Are we obeying the federal gubmint today, or nah?

Though it wasn’t always perceived as a pejorative, the phrase “sanctuary city” is mostly used today as a xenophobic dog whistle, favored by those who have a perhaps willfully limited grasp of how immigration law and immigration policy work. But it is not the job of local law enforcement entities to detain, for the local immigration office, anyone they arrest who can’t trace their lineage to the Mayflower. And while it makes for a tasty preparation of the red, red meat that conservative voters love, there’s no evidence that detaining and deporting every undocumented person who steals a stick of gum is likely to make anybody safer.

In fact, Dallas County is already facing a lawsuit for holding some immigrants too long (as in, maybe unconstitutionally too long), after they’ve posted bond, and the Texas Tribune has reported that law enforcement officials around the state, including Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and San Antonio Chief Bill McManus, say their communities might, if anything, be less safe if folks are afraid of getting deported if they report crimes.

But why listen to the experts when there’s fear-mongering to do? Abbott’s patronizing and snippy letter to Valdez runs right up to the edge of directly blaming the sheriff should any immigrant in the entire state of Texas commit any crime. And yet Abbott had to reach all the way to San Francisco — citing the case of Kathryn Steinle, who police say was shot at random in the Embarcadero district by an undocumented man — to find an example of the kind of criminal he’d like us to believe is waiting around every Lone Star corner.

The governor has bravely threatened to withhold grant money for counties that don’t fall in line with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s every demand.

“Policies like yours,” writes Abbott, “compel Texas to take action to protect Texans’ safety and to reduce the costs that those policies may impose on Texas taxpayers.”

Silly Lupe Valdez. She says she spends her time running a county law enforcement agency and evaluating immigration threats on a “case-by-case” basis, but is she taking decisive action to protect Texans, as Greg Abbott has? Why, last month, Abbott tweeted that he’s “embarrassed” that Texans aren’t buying as many guns as Californians are, a time-tested method of improving public safety. And the governor has bravely threatened to withhold grant money for counties that don’t fall in line with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s every demand, meaning fewer resources for juvenile justice programs and body cameras. You know, to keep the public as safe as possible.

Finally, in the service of making Texas safe again, Abbott has launched a parade of public appearances to promote his tough new persona, including a turn on Fox News, deriding Valdez for the Dallas County “case-by-case” policy. See how he toils in the streets, making us all a little safer every time a Republican primary voter sees his face.