Utah Gov. Cox, back from Texas, calls on Biden and Congress to handle immigration ‘crisis’

Cox joined 14 Republican governors, led by Texas’ Greg Abbott, to tour ‘flashpoint’ on Texas-Mexico border

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, seated center, is joined by fellow governors during a press conference along the Rio Grande to discuss Operation Lone Star and border concerns, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. Abbott was joined Sunday afternoon by more than a dozen other GOP governors, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, second right, and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, right, all of whom have cheered on his extraordinary showdown with the Biden administration over immigration enforcement. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox took a trip to the Texas-Mexico border Sunday, and came back calling for both President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress to do more to handle what he called a “crisis” in illegal immigration.

“The federal government has, once again, just completely abdicated their responsibility,” Cox said Sunday evening, in a brief news conference outside the Kearns Mansion.

“President Biden can’t fix all of this, but he can fix most of this with the authority that he has right now,” said Cox, a Republican. “He knows this, and his administration knows this. And they’re willfully choosing not to do the things that could stop this from happening, this humanitarian catastrophe that is taking place on the border, with people that are losing their lives.”

Cox also had harsh words for Congress.

“Congress does need to act,” Cox said. “Congress also abdicated their responsibility for the past 40 years, to help some of the things that are broken with immigration. We would encourage Congress to do their part.”

Cox spoke just after hours after a tour of Eagle Pass, Texas, joining 14 other Republican governors at the invitation of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to what’s been called a “flashpoint” in the immigration crisis.

Abbott, backed by military vehicles and personnel at a news conference after the tour, said the United States was being “invaded” by illegal immigrants from around the world through the southern border, and that Biden has “aided and abetted” unlawful entry.

“If somebody makes it across the border illegally, the president has the responsibility imposed by Congress to detain any illegal immigrant who has come here,” Abbott said. “As opposed to detaining any illegal immigrants, Biden instead has let them all loose across the entire country with no ability to accurately determine their whereabouts or what they may be doing.”

Cox didn’t speak at the windy news conference at Shelby Park, on the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass.

While Cox and his fellow governors were in Texas, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced a $118.3 billion compromise bill to crack down on unlawful migration and speed security aid to Ukraine, The New York Times reported. The deal faces an uphill climb in a Congress divided over both issues, The Times wrote.

Back home in Utah, Cox said, “Every single state has illegal immigrants that are coming into their state. … We are being impacted as well.”

Cox mentioned the influx of illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, as one consequence of illegal immigration. “The numbers that are being apprehended at the border are just mind-blowing,” he said.

Data from the Cato Institute, a libertarian D.C. think tank, says illegal immigrants account for only a small portion of fentanyl smuggling. According to the 2022 study, 86.3% of convicted fentanyl drug traffickers in 2021 were U.S. citizens — and more than 90% of fentanyl seizures were at legal crossing points or interior vehicle checkpoints, not on illegal immigration routes.

Those speaking at the Texas news conference included Abbott, Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, and Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana. The governors who spoke said they supported Texas in its efforts to secure its southern border.

Abbott cited an instance of a migrant who apparently entered the country illegally four times and killed five people outside of Houston last April. (According to CNN, the man, Francisco Oropeza, was deported in twice in 2009, then in 2012 and 2016. It is unclear when he last returned to the United States. He was arrested four days after the killings, was indicted by a grand jury in August, and is awaiting trial in April on murder charges. If found guilty, prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.)

“There is imminent danger crossing our border all the time,” Abbott said.

Eagle Pass has become a focal point in the conflict between Biden and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over border security and immigration, The New York Times reports. In the past two years, Abbott has concentrated his program of state-level border enforcement, known as Operation Lone Star, on the town, which has been a popular crossing point for large groups of migrants during the Biden administration, The Times said.

The town has become the backdrop of a growing legal fight between Texas and the federal government, The Times reported, over the unfurling of miles of concertina wire and the takeover of the city-owned Shelby Park by state law enforcement officers. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Texas, saying federal border agents could continue cutting or removing the wire while the case proceeds — but Republican leaders in Texas have publicly expressed defiance.