A U.S. Border Patrol agent on patrol in the Sunland Park area, a popular migrant crossing spot. (Claudia Tristán/El Paso Matters)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the agenda Wednesday for a special legislative session that includes measures concerning border security, transgender children in sports, critical race theory, medication abortion and more. 

Set to begin at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday July 8, the special session will include stated priority issues for Texas GOP leadership and will revisit contentious items that failed to pass during the regular session, including bills targeting transgender children and additional limits on how racism is taught in schools. 

The agenda includes a call for border security funding, an issue of key interest to Abbott. The governor has been increasingly vocal in his condemnation of the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, and recently toured a section of the “unfinished border wall” with former President Donald Trump. Abbott also announced last month he’ll use state funds and solicit donations to continue construction of a border wall.

Abbott declared a state of disaster at the Texas border in early June, authorizing the use of state and local resources to “prevent criminal activity at the border.” Since then, six states — all led by Republican governors — have pledged to send police officers or National Guard to help at the border. 

El Paso was one of 11 border counties that was removed from a revised version of the disaster declaration, which El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said was due to his belief that what’s happening locally does not fall under the governor’s definition of a “disaster.”

“We don’t have the same situations that other communities have,” Samaniego said, adding that El Paso is safe, and that local law enforcement is well-equipped to handle local needs. 

Abbott’s recent initiatives regarding the border and disaster declaration are part of a longer pattern of employing anti-immigrant rhetoric for political gain, Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, said last month after Abbott issued his declaration.

“He has tried to punish local communities for being hospitable and welcoming to migrants, he has tried to deputize local law enforcement to serve as immigration enforcement,” Corbett said. “This is all about politics.” 

Trans children in sports a top priority 

Among the issues Abbott prioritized is a measure restricting participation of transgender children in sports competitions, a bill that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick urged Abbott to advance in a special session after it failed during the regular session. 

Several El Pasoans caravanned to Austin during the regular session to speak out against several bills that aimed to restrict athletic and health care options for trans kids. The special session agenda identifies Senate Bill 29 as the model for new legislation that would exclude transgender children from participating in University Interscholastic League competitions on teams that align with their gender identity. The measure passed the Texas Senate but failed to make it out of the Texas House during the regular session that ended May 31. 

Emily Edwards, 14, began socially transitioning in middle school. She said in an interview during the spring legislative session that she is afraid her family would be forced to move out of state if anti-trans bills become law in Texas. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Critical race theory back in focus

Despite House Bill 3979 — a measure that restricts how teachers can discuss racism in the classroom — being passed during the regular legislative session and signed into law in June., Abbott wants to go a step further. 

Upon signing HB 3979, Abbott said “more must be done” in a filing message, and pledged to add it to a special session agenda. The announced agenda calls for legislation “similar to House Bill 3979.”

The measure prohibits teaching that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” The bill bans the teaching of the Pulitzer Prize winning “The 1619 Project,” a multimedia reporting project by the New York Times that recasts U.S. history through the history of enslavement of Africans. 

Abbott described HB 3979 as a “strong move” toward abolishing critical race theory, a method of academic and legal analysis that focuses on  how racism is systemic and historically embedded within social institutions. Critics of critical race theory have argued that teaching it casts blame upon white people for the actions of their ancestors.

Agenda includes further limitations on abortion access

Despite passage of some of the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the nation during the spring legislative session, Abbott called on lawmakers to pass additional abortion restrictions during the special session. 

Two major anti-abortion bills passed during the regular spring session: Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy even in cases of rape or incest; and House Bill 1280, which would immediately outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court precedent that protects the right to have an abortion, is overturned.

The governor’s agenda calls for legislation similar to Senate Bill 394, which bans the provision of abortion medication by mail or delivery service, and bans pill-induced abortions after seven weeks into the pregnancy. 

There was a dramatic increase nationwide in the use of abortion medication during the COVID-19 pandemic according to a recent study that analyzed medication abortion by mail between March 11 and April 11 in 2020. Among all states, Texas had the highest rate of increase: a 94% spike in the number of abortions via medication. 

The former location of Hill Top Women’s Reproductive Clinic, a local abortion provider, is now for sale. (René Kladzyk/El Paso Matters)

In El Paso, like many counties in Texas, there is currently no clinic that provides abortions. As of 2017, 96% of Texas counties had no local abortion provider.

Cover photo: a U.S. Border Patrol agent on patrol in the Sunland Park area, a popular migrant crossing spot. (Claudia Tristán/El Paso Matters)

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.