Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has sent a letter to county judges in Texas reminding them he invoked the invasion clauses in the state and U.S. Constitutions over the summer – asking that they pressure Congress to reimburse the state for the billions of dollars it has spent on border security.

“Texas has forcefully responded to Biden’s open border policies by doing more than any state in the history of America to do the federal government’s job to secure the border,” Abbott said in the statement Tuesday. He attached a copy of the letter sent to county judges on Monday.

The governor has not formally declared an invasion – a description of migration that has been denounced by human rights advocates and Democratic leaders – but in July issued an executive order authorizing the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety to return to the ports of entry migrants they apprehend for illegally crossing the border.

In a tweet Tuesday, Abbott said he’s authorized Texas to take “unprecedented measures to defend our state against an invasion.” Abbott in the tweet again outlined some of the measures in his executive order, including the deployment of troops and guardsmen to the border, building a border wall, designating Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations, entering a compact with other states to secure the border and providing resources to border counties.

In his letter to county judges, Abbott said when the next Congress is sworn in come January, “we must remind our representatives in Washington that securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility.”

He added that Congress should reimburse Texas for what it has spent on border security, not directly addressing the controversial migrant busing program he began in April that has sent thousands of migrants to Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago – and as of Tuesday, to Philadelphia

Texas has “devoted” more than $4 billion of taxpayer dollars toward his border security efforts, Abbott said in the letter.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego didn’t immediately return requests for comment about whether he received the letter and what it might imply for the community.

The El Paso County government last month opened a contractor-operated migrant center to help coordinate travel arrangements for migrants with the funds to get to their next destination with advanced federal funding of nearly $7 million. The center has processed about 7,000 migrants since opening Oct. 10, county officials said Tuesday.

After being released from detention by Border Patrol, migrants arrive at the city of El Paso’s Migrant Welcome Center on Sept. 16. The center closed Oct. 20. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The city of El Paso has spent more than $9.5 million to shelter and transport migrants this calendar year and is awaiting federal reimbursement of more than $7 million – with city leaders last week saying they will no longer resume busing operations unless they’ve first secured federal funding. 

The city shut down its Migrant Welcome Center and busing efforts after the Biden administration on Oct. 20 expanded Title 42, which expelled most Venezuelan migrants to Mexico and slowed the record-high flow of migrants into the community.

“El Paso is unique and we have always handled matters as best works for our community and our citizens,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said in an emailed statement. “We have not received any notification on this matter, but I believe that each of the state’s 254 counties – which range from 100 people to over 4 million – is better equipped to determine how to address the issues they face based on each community’s challenges, geography and resources.”

The El Paso City Council in May approved an emergency ordinance that allowed the city to take steps to address the influx of migrants to the region, including assigning personnel and resources to nongovernmental agencies that assist migrants and later, contracting with charter bus companies to transport migrants to their next destination.

Back in May, Leeser said he didn’t issue a disaster declaration because area leaders were concerned that doing so would prompt the governor to send the National Guard to the region.

Some human rights organizations called the governor’s letter and his Tuesday Tweet a political stunt: Abbott campaigned heavily on border security in his successful bid for re-election to the gubernatorial seat last week and may have higher political aspirations, they said. 

“I didn’t see anything that he’s not already doing to some extent,” said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at Washington Office on Latin America, an independent human rights research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. “ It likely means that he’s going to draw even more heavily on Texas – his treasury – to provide even more billions of dollars that he’s going to have to find somewhere.”

Isacson, who stopped in El Paso Tuesday as he toured the Southwest border to see how communities are handling the migrant influx, said he believes Abbott is trying to position himself for the 2024 presidential elections using immigration as “the wedge issue for the Republican primaries.”

“But overall, this is going to hurt people,” Isacson said. “This is going to do harm – unnecessary human-caused harm to people who are in many cases, seeking protection here in the United States. And that’s probably the most offensive part.”

Melissa M. Lopez, executive director of El Paso Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, agrees, saying the use of the word “invasion” is inflammatory.

“I think it’s really problematic for a number of reasons,” she said. “I think it creates a sense of fear among some people who don’t understand the issue of immigration well.”

Lopez said migrants seeking asylum in the United States have a lawful right to do so and are typically fleeing “uncertainty and violence, in many cases” in their home countries.

“I don’t think law enforcement is the proper response to the needs of our community,” she said. “What we need is a more humane response to people who find themselves in a position of having to flee their home countries.”

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...