We end the year still grieving for 19 young boys and girls and two of their teachers gunned down in Uvalde last May by an aggrieved teenager, yet another close-to-home mass shooting that followed the 2017 attack at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs that took the lives of 26 churchgoers.
Uvalde is not the only community redefined by a preventable act of violence. Mass shootings in Santa Fe, El Paso, and Midland-Odessa happened in the same five-year time frame, taking the lives of 40 more Texans.
Mass shootings throughout Texas leave communities in a state of shock and result in renewed calls for gun reform legislation, but Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican officeholders who control the Texas Senate and House know that restrictive voter laws and gerrymandering allow them to ride out popular protest and rely on base voters come election time.
The state’s political leaders dress up like hunters for press conferences, spout law and order cliches, offer their thoughts and prayers, and then shrewdly ride out community outrage, confident there will be no political consequences if they appease their political base and ignore calls for stricter gun laws.
It will be just as easy for the next angry 18-year-old to walk into a Texas gun store and buy an assault weapon and turn it on innocent children and adults. Like others before them, they might even signal their turn to violence before it happens.
Yet nothing seems to carry political consequences in Texas, as former Congressman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and others in his party learned on Nov. 8. A predicted red wave might have failed to materialize elsewhere in the nation, but it was plenty evident here. And while polls might show what a majority of Texans think and feel, a majority of Texans either do not exercise their right to vote or encounter roadblocks stopping them from voting.
In recent years, 92,000 Texans have died from COVID-19. The state’s power grid collapsed in Winter Storm Uri, with a dubious official death count of 246, even as most of the state’s 254 counties failed to report storm-related fatalities. Add to those epic tragedies the worst school shooting in Texas history, and the successful efforts to ban all abortions in Texas.
Consequences? Abbott and other state officeholders easily won re-election, most by double figure percentage points as 55% of the state’s registered voters failed to vote. Restrictive election laws and gerrymandering combine to leave one political party in power, indifferent to what a majority of citizens think or believe.
While nothing was done to make Texas communities safer, the unprecedented wave of migrants arriving at the border from Cuba, Venezuela and Central America serve as easy fodder for Abbott’s cruel, duped out-of-state busing stunts. Anti-immigration sentiment is easily stirred, allowing many to regard uninvited foreigners as unwelcome invaders unworthy of humane treatment or consideration.
Vulnerable asylum-seekers intending to reconnect with relatives or friends while awaiting a distant court date and eventual legal residency or deportation instead find themselves shivering in winter temperatures as they are left on the streets of blue states and cities. The same lack of comprehensive immigration reform that led to mass flights of migrants to the Texas-Mexico border during the Trump administration are now cynically decried as the result of so-called “open border” Democratic policies.
Abbott’s targeting of President Biden rings hollow. He said nothing when former President Trump was in office, and he neglects to account for his own failed policy of wasting billions of dollars on Texas National Guard postings to the border.
Texas border communities continue to pay the price for a succession of administrations and Congress under both parties failing to pass comprehensive immigration reforms that would allow for orderly arrivals, admissions and deportations. Fear of violence and life-threatening poverty will continue to drive people out of failed states in the hemisphere regardless of who holds power in Washington.
The exodus reached new levels in 2022 with a record 2 million migrants fleeing their homelands, most from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua, leading to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week stopping the Biden administration from ending the pandemic-era Trump policy commonly known as the Title 42 ban on asylum seekers crossing into the United States.
We can expect little agreement among the two political parties in addressing the country’s inadequate immigration laws in 2023.