Texas Democratic lawmakers including San Antonio US Rep. Joaquin Castro are pushing the Biden administration to investigate whether Gov. Greg Abbott misused federal pandemic-relief funding by funneling it into his immigration crackdown.
The urging comes days after a Washington Post investigation reported that Abbott and other Texas officials rerouted $ 1 million in federal pandemic funds into his controversial Operation Lone Star border initiative. That shuffling of funds exposes “gaps in a law meant to bolster the country’s response to the ongoing pandemic,” which has so far killed 86,000 Texans, the Post reports.
In a Monday letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Castro and eight other lawmakers note that a ruling from Yellen’s agency stipulates that federal COVID relief funds must be used to replace lost public sector revenue, address health issues, pay essential workers or invest in water , sewer and broadband infrastructure.
“Instead, Governor Abbott is taking this funding away from integral public sector resources and allocating it to Operation Lone Star, which the Texas Legislature has already funded with almost $ 2 billion toward border security over the next two years,” the lawmakers added. “It is negligent and irresponsible for Governor Abbot to direct additional funding to Operation Lone Star, especially if the funding in question was intended to help Texans rebuild from the pandemic.”
In a statement supplied to the Current, a spokesperson for Abbott’s office accused the Biden administration of ignoring an immigration crisis and playing politics.
“Here in Texas, we have worked with the legislature to allocate federal funds in a manner that adheres to federal guidance,” spokeswoman Renae Eze said. “Between legislative sessions, in the event of a disaster, there are mechanisms to re-allocate state dollars if necessary to respond to the disaster – and we have had to use $ 4 billion of state dollars for Operation Lone Star to do the federal government job . “
The Republican governor’s reelection campaign has seized on immigration as a top issue. As he vies for a third term, Abbott has trotted out a series of high-profile initiatives that he said are needed because the White House will not curb illegal immigration.
The centerpiece of those has been Operation Lone Star, a deployment of thousands of National Guard troops to the border to arrest and detain migrants on minor property crimes. Critics have lambasted Abbott’s move as a pricy pre-election publicity stunt.
Late last month, Abbott announced plans to funnel an additional $ 495.3 million in state funds into his crackdown, taking the money from agencies including the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees Children’s Medicaid and food stamp programs.
Civil rights groups have blasted Operation Lone Star, saying it regularly denies due process to jailed migrants, and recent media investigations have raised serious questions about Abbott’s claims that he’s sweeping up smugglers and cartel members. In a separate letter sent to the White House last fall, Castro and Democratic lawmakers requested the Justice Department and Homeland Security look into potential human-rights violations under the program.
“There have got to be consequences from the Justice Department for the governor abusing resources and unconstitutionally keeping people in jail for extended periods,” Castro wrote. “He’s risking people’s lives, including members of the Texas National Guard, who have been pulled into work they were not trained for at the same time as their benefits have been cut.”
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