Texas Republicans Ramp Up the Anti-immigrant Rhetoric, Powered by Fossil Fuel, and Big Tobacco
A big abrazo to everyone who participated in our discussion thread last Thursday on the impacts of climate change on global borders and migration moderated by Todd. It was a fascinating conversation with our invited global experts including Amali Tower, founder and director of Climate Refugees; Nick Buxton of the Transnational Institute; Diana Siller, CEO of the Mexico-based Justicia Ambiental y Derechos Humanos (JADE); Nathan Akehurst, an independent journalist and climate researcher from the United Kingdom; and Juan Jose Hurtado Paz y Paz, director of the Guatemalan indigenous-focused Asociación Pop No’J.
Don’t miss out. Join us for the next discussion. Become a paid subscriber today!
Midterm Maneuvering: Texas Republicans Ramp Up the Anti-immigrant Rhetoric, Powered by Fossil Fuel, and Big Tobacco
As the adage goes, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” This certainly rings true when it comes to Republican officials’ fearmongering about the border, their climate change denial, and their undermining of elections.
Since Biden was elected, the state’s top elected officials—Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton—have invested heavily in “great replacement” and invasion messaging. This spurred a deadly massacre in El Paso in 2019 and, most likely, the recent fatal shooting of a Mexican man and the injury of another migrant.
All three elected officials are up for reelection in November and are backed by millions in campaign contributions from major corporations and fossil fuel billionaires.
In July, Patrick portrayed asylum seekers during a Fox News interview as fentanyl smugglers, equating immigration with the attack on Pearl Harbor (most fentanyl smugglers are U.S. citizens who bring the drug through ports of entry). The lieutenant governor, a former radio shock jock who once had a vasectomy on air, said Texas should declare itself under invasion and forcibly push migrants back across the Rio Grande. “This is an attack on the American public,” he said “and an attack on our young people and the border.”
After the interview, Texas representative Joaquin Castro (D–San Antonio) warned in a tweet, “Dan Patrick is an out-of-control bigot who’s going to get people killed with his rhetoric.”
In addition to promoting racial violence, the three Texas politicians have embraced the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. In recent months, both Paxton and Patrick have sponsored screenings in churches and theaters of the film 2000 Mules, which claims fraud in the 2020 election in key swing states, including Arizona, by ballot stuffing “mules.” The film by GOP operative Dinesh D’Souza has been debunked by many, including Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr.
It’s no accident that D’Souza’s 2000 Mules parrots border law enforcement jargon, reinforcing the GOP’s great replacement messaging, according to which Biden and the Democrats are ushering black and brown migrants across the border to replace white voters. In D’Souza’s film, alleged Democratic-aligned ballot stuffers are “mules” hired by unnamed nonprofits, referred to as “stash houses,” to conduct “ballot trafficking.”
In March, Paxton won his primary, even though he’s under indictment for securities fraud, and his office is being investigated by the FBI after allegations of corruption were lodged by former staffers. And although Paxton claims to have cracked down on human trafficking (a frequent border talking point), nearly half the investigators in his human-trafficking division have quit, according to the Associated Press. After the division lost track of a victim, it dropped several of its human-trafficking and child sexual assault cases
This might seem like enough to make Paxton unelectable in November. But it isn’t. Because Paxton has carried water for several right-wing and corporate national initiatives over the years—filing lawsuits on everything from ending abortion access to quashing the Dream Act to gutting environmental protections. And, on Trump’s behalf, he invested much of his political capital in protesting the outcome of the 2020 election.
In return, Paxton has received more than $1.2 million in campaign funding since he was elected in 2014, according to the nonprofit Center for Political Accountability, from the influential Republican Attorney General’s Association, (RAGA) a 527 organization. After the 2010 Citizens United ruling, these 527s (named for the section of IRS tax code that governs them) were allowed to receive unlimited corporate contributions, which are funneled to Republican candidates.
Additionally, the RAGA oversees the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a 501 (c) (4) dark money group that helped organize Trump’s rally at the Ellipse park before the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol and sent out robocalls urging people to attend.
Democrats also use 527s but have received little more than half the corporate contributions raised by Republicans in the last decade, according to the Center for Political Accountability, which did an extensive analysis of 527s for its 2021 report Conflicted Consequences.
“The companies that give to RAGA bear responsibility for Ken Paxton,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability. “Because when they give to RAGA, that money goes to Paxton. And when you look at previous elections and what RAGA has given, that’s serious money.”
The top five companies that gave to RAGA since 2010, according to the center, are the following:
Altria Client Services (formerly tobacco behemoth Phillip Morris): $2.3 million
Comcast (America’s largest telecommunications conglomerate): $1.2 million
Reynolds American (another tobacco company): $1.1 million
Wal-Mart (big box store): $933,000
Anthem (health insurance conglomerate): $895,000
Since 2021, Abbott has spent more than $4 billion on creating his own state-run immigrant detention system. He’s also spent countless hours on Fox and other right-wing media sites fearmongering about migrants at the border, and busing asylum seekers to “sanctuary cities.”
But even after Abbott jailed thousands of migrants under Operation Lone Star, an investigation by The Texas Tribune found that the initiative hasn’t reduced the number of people arriving at the Texas border. This is because migration is at an all-time high around the globe, owing to political upheaval, pandemic-wrecked economies, and especially climate change.
Which is why it’s notable that the top donor to both Abbott and Patrick is a Texas oil tycoon named Javaid Anwar, founder of Midland Energy. Anwar was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and emigrated to the United States in his 20s. He’s since made billions from fracking in Texas.
During this election cycle, Anwar has given Abbott $1.8 million in campaign contributions, Patrick, $450,000, and Paxton $225,000.
Anwar gives millions to Republican candidates. Former president George W. Bush, a longtime friend, reportedly calls him “J Daddy.”
Fracking, of course, pollutes the water and creates greenhouse gas pollution, which causes climate disruption. This disruption, in turn, displaces people from their homes. It was climate change that worsened the severity of the devastating flooding in Pakistan last month, which killed more than 1,500 people. An estimated 30 million people were displaced from their homes and will undoubtedly be forced to migrate beyond the borders of Pakistan. Some may even arrive at the Texas-Mexico border in coming months.
Anwar seldom does interviews, but in a 2018 profile by E&E News, an oil and gas industry publication, the billionaire said he doubted climate change exists. “I’m not an expert,” he told the publication. “We need to conserve our environment, [but] we cannot go back to the Stone Age and ride on horses.”
He also said the border should be closed to asylum seekers. “Think about it. If everyone could walk in, what a chaos it would be,” he said. “I am for legal immigration.”
For innumerable migrants, especially those without money, legal immigration isn’t an option, because no country will accept them. Texas is the nation’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, and the cruelest when it comes to border policies and people fleeing climate disruption. Its top three elected officials are heavily invested in militarizing the border and demonizing migrants, while they pretend that climate change doesn’t exist and that Trump won the 2020 election.
They’ve already sold the future. And it’s all being bankrolled by some of America’s largest corporations and oil billionaires.
The Border Chronicle is a 100 % reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.