Navarrette: Abbott uses immigration as unwieldy weapon

Gun Rights

They say that, in Texas, everything is bigger. How strange then that the governor of the Lone Star State keeps doing, saying and tweeting things that make him look smaller and smaller.

As I approach my 56th birthday, the direction that America’s politics have taken is really making me feel old.

Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t helping. The Republican has turned out to be a real prize. If Texas were shaped like a giant cowboy boot, Abbott would be the heel.

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It used to be understood that the objective of politics is to be liked by as many people as possible. Today, in a niche era when cable networks make billions of dollars speaking to a narrow sliver of viewers, some politicians don’t seem to worry much about being unlikable.

And at the moment, Abbott is one of the most unlikable elected officials in the country.

When Abbott served as state attorney general from 2002 to 2015, he was considered a levelheaded moderate — at least by the warped standards of the Texas GOP. When a Republican in the legislature proposed a wacky idea, Abbott would back away.

Today, Abbott is an icy demagogue auditioning for bully in chief. The likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate thinks that immigration is his ticket to the White House. And so he has become what my friend and former senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming calls the “south end of a horse headed north.”

One way to become unlikable is to demean and “otherize” those who don’t have a voice — such as the five people fatally shot last week in Cleveland, Texas, about 45 minutes from Houston. The victims were identified as Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Sonia Argentina Guzmán, 25; Guzmán’s son Daniel Enrique Laso, 9; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18.

Authorities say the massacre happened after neighbors asked 38-year-old Francisco Oropesa to stop shooting his AR-style rifle in his yard, or at least go shoot it elsewhere, because it was late and a baby was sleeping. Oropesa allegedly refused and instead opened fire on his neighbors and others gathered at the home.

Oropesa is a Mexican national, and the five people who were killed appear to have all been from Honduras.

Abbott wasn’t interested in how Oropesa — who had been deported four times in the past 14 years — got his hands on a high-powered rifle. Apparently, the AR-15 is now the preferred weapon of mass destruction for noncitizens as well as for native-born Americans.

Nor did the governor — a favorite son of the National Rifle Association — mention the fact that Texas has a perverse John Wayne gun culture. The state could be the massacre capital of America. Mass shootings in Texas include Fort Hood in 2009 and 2014, Dallas in 2016, El Paso in 2019 and Uvalde in 2022.

What got Abbott’s attention was the presumed immigration status of the victims. Seizing political opportunism from the jaws of tragedy, the governor couldn’t wait to tweet that he had offered a reward for information about “the criminal who killed five illegal immigrants.”

That was wrong six ways from Sunday. Let’s just focus on three.

First, it was ghoulish. These people are dead. They no longer have to worry about sorting out America’s contradiction — the dueling signs at the border hollering “Keep Out” and “Help Wanted.” That Abbott mentioned their immigration status says more about him than them.

Next, it was false. One of the victims — Velazquez Alvarado, who was reportedly shot while shielding children from gunfire — had been in the United States legally since 2021. Her husband took time out from planning her funeral to tweet a photo of her green card.

(Abbott’s office later put out a statement blaming federal officials for providing “incorrect” information. If that’s true, then Abbott should be faulted for tweeting out information before he confirmed it.)

Finally, the governor did the very thing that conservatives accuse liberals of doing: politicizing tragedy. Whereas the left uses instances of mass murder to argue for stronger gun laws, Abbott couldn’t wait to use it to make a pitch against illegal immigration.

In politics, the three P’s — positions, pandering and promises — mean nothing. If you don’t like a politician’s stance on a given issue, wait a few weeks. It’ll change.

The only things that endure are decency and character. And, as he continues to demonstrate, Abbott doesn’t have an ounce of either.

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