Gov. Abbott’s rhetoric towards immigrants is dangerous

Alexa Leon, Columnist

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been the backbone of Gov. Greg Abbott’s re-election campaign. As such, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen an increase of attention towards this topic. With election day less than a month away, Abbott knows this rhetoric will help drive his supporters to the polls. 

During the gubernatorial debate on Sept. 30, Abbott and his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke clashed repeatedly over immigration. O’Rourke blamed “hateful rhetoric” towards immigrants for the increase of violence towards migrants and mass violence, such as the 2019 El Paso shooting. 

“This hateful rhetoric, this treating human beings as political pawns, talking about invasions and Texans defending themselves–that’s how people got killed at the Walmart in El Paso,” O’Rourke said. 

Hate crimes have been on the rise nationally, and the perpetuation of this rhetoric is a potential influence. In 2020 there were 517 anti-Hispanic or anti-Latino incidents in the United States. In Texas, there were over 300 hate crimes reported, with 70% of them being motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry. 

Abbott’s rhetoric towards immigrants is harmful. While O’Rourke is not free from criticism either, Abbott is a key contributor to the increase of anti-immigrant sentiments through his policies and the overall normalization of his rhetoric in politics. With the continuation of this rhetoric, it will not only push a negative picture of immigrants, but could also lead to an increase in violence and tension throughout the country. 

Gov. Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star, which aimed to “secure the border” and “stop the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people into Texas” is just one example of perpetuating fear that the southern border is suffering from an “invasion” of immigrants. 

Brian Pena, Plan II sophomore and COLA Representative, said the picture Abbott paints of the Rio Grande Valley is an unfair representation of his hometown. 

“While there is an issue with the border, it is not this horrible chaos that Greg Abbott would like you to believe it is,” UT Democrats treasurer Pena said. 

There’s a long history of dehumanizing and demeaning immigrants in America. Immigrants are often blamed for the lack of jobs or opportunities in the country. 

Professor González de Bustamante from the School of Journalism and Media says spikes in anti-immigrant rhetoric occur when people in power normalize this rhetoric. 

“(Elected officials) normalized this kind of language,” González de Bustamante said. “Then what does that mean for the everyday person who’s not elected? They’re more likely to use those kinds of terms.” 

Although Abbott has clear ties to using anti-immigrant rhetoric, O’Rourke is not free from criticism either. As a Democrat in Texas, O’Rourke treads carefully when speaking about immigration. While he denounced Abbott’s rhetoric during the debate, O’Rourke said he wants to work alongside Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies. This raises concerns as to whether O’Rourke is also perpetuating the idea of a “crisis” at the border, as well as if he can complete his promises of immigration reform. 

We’ve been living under Republican leadership in Texas for decades. We’ve seen the demonization of migrants spread rapidly thanks to politicians like Abbott. Yes, there are issues that must be addressed with immigration on our southern border, but we cannot default to demonizing and pegging people as political pawns. 

“There’s a million reasons to get rid of Greg Abbott, but this is one of the big ones that I hope resonates with students,” Pena said.

Leon is a journalism sophomore from Houston, Texas.