Immigration, border security dominated Texas governor's debate

EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Border security and immigration issues dominated the Texas gubernatorial debate on Friday night between Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his Democratic opponent former Congressman Beto O’Rourke that was held on the South Texas border.

For 12 minutes, the candidates bantered on immigration topics ranging from busing migrants to northern cities, the deployment of the Texas National Guard along the Texas/Mexico border, crime on the border and even a Texas-based guest worker program, which O’Rourke proposed.

For the most part, statements made by the candidates at the debate, held at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, remained consistent with those they have repeated in the past on the campaign trail.

But they did fire up the lingo and inflict emotion as they head into the final six weeks of this campaign leading up to the Nov. 8 election.

Abbott blamed the immigration “disaster” caused by the Biden administration’s “failed border policies.”

O’Rourke blamed Abbott for spending $4 billion in Texas taxpayer funds on Operation Lone Star, his border security initiative, which he called “political theater” and said Abbott has caused “chaos” on the border.

Abbott retorted: “We shouldn’t have to allocate any money but this is all because of Biden’s failure to do his job.”

And he said Operation Lone Star, in which 10,000 National Guard troops are positioned along the 1,200-mile border with Mexico, are necessary for the safety of Texans, and the rest of the nation.

He said “record” amounts of fentanyl and other illegal drugs have been seized on the border; drugs he said could and would have made it North had troops and law enforcement not stopped it.

“Abbott remained on message more,” Natasha Altema McNeely, associate political science professor at UTRGV, told Border Report just moments after the hour-long debate ended.

“Beto was very focused on pointing out Abbott’s failures across various contexts: immigration, gun control including response to Uvalde, failure to uphold reproductive rights,” she said.

With regards to the positioning of National Guard troops, O’Rourke did not specify whether he would draw back troops but he threw out the idea of a “voluntary” service by Guard troops. He did not explain how many troops he thought should participate, or how that would work

And another surprising moment came when Abbott said that New York Mayor Eric Adams had not contacted him regarding the busing of migrants from Texas. This conflicts with reports that Adams has said his office has called Abbott and requested information on when and where these migrants will be dropped off to coordinate and be prepared to support them.

Friday evening, New York City mayor press secretary Fabien Levy tweeted a screenshot of an email the city’s director of federal affairs sent Aug. 1, 2022 to a member of Gov. Abbott’s staff and said “not only did our office call you about this, but we followed up via email. Always keep the receipts, folks!”

After the debate, in an interview with NewsNation, O’Rourke once again mentioned the need for a Texas-based guest worker program. “Why not let Texas lead on this issue? We are a border state,” O’Rourke said.

Abbott said if O’Rourke takes the helm, he would mirror Biden’s policies. “It is the same pathway that Beto would take us down,” he said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at