WASHINGTON, D.C. (KXAN) — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reacted to the Texas governor’s plan to begin busing migrants released from federal custody to the nation’s capital if they agreed to take the trip, calling it a “publicity stunt.”
During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Psaki also questioned whether Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan is legal. He announced the busing plan Wednesday as part of two new actions that he said would counter the Biden administration’s decision to end the Title 42 Order next month.
“I’m not aware of what authority the governor would be doing that under,” Psaki told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s pretty clear this is a publicity stunt. His own office admits that a migrant would need to voluntarily be transported, and it can’t compel them to because, again, enforcement of our country’s immigration laws lies with the federal government and not a state.”
At a news conference Wednesday in Weslaco, Abbott said the Texas Division of Emergency Management would organize charter buses to transport people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
“As opposed to busing these people to San Antonio. Let’s continue the ride all the way to Washington, D.C.,” Abbott said Wednesday.
His office later put out a news release clarifying that anyone taken by bus to Washington, D.C. would have to do so voluntarily and with the appropriate documentation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“I know that the governor of Texas — or any state — does not have the legal authority to compel anyone to get on a bus,” Psaki said.
KXAN reached out Thursday afternoon to Abbott’s office for comment and will update this story once a response is shared.
She responded to criticism that ending the Title 42 Order on May 23 as planned may result in a rush of people crossing the border. She said the federal government is taking steps “to convey that this is not the time to come,” but offered no specifics about how it’s doing that.
Psaki also spoke generally about plans underway to add resources and staffing at the border ahead of the order expiring. The Trump administration re-enacted Title 42, a public health law, in March 2020 as part of its effort to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading across international borders between Mexico, Canada and the United States. For the last two years, the U.S. used that policy to send migrants and asylum-seekers who tried to cross land borders back, citing the threat to public health.
In a tweet posted Wednesday, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for governor, also called Abbott’s busing plan “another political stunt, financed by the people of Texas.” He said in a statement sent to KXAN, “If Abbott focused on solutions instead of stunts, then Texas could have made some real progress on this issue over the last seven years.”
The Texas Military Department posted photos on Twitter Thursday that it began conducting “Mass Migration Rehearsals to prepare for an influx of migrants,” which Abbott alluded to in his Wednesday announcement. He also said state troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety would begin conducting “enhanced safety inspections” of every commercial vehicle that crosses into the state from Mexico, a move he admitted would slow down traffic in areas near the border.