Lev Radin/Pacific Press/ZUMA
Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.
Earlier this week, two West Texas men—one of whom was a former warden of a migrant detention center—were arrested and charged with manslaughter in the death of a Mexican national who had recently crossed over the border. An affidavit filed by a Texas Ranger alleged that Michael Sheppard, the now-former warden, and his brother Mark, came across a group of 13 Mexican migrants drinking from a reservoir on Tuesday, while driving their truck through a sparsely inhabited area south of the town of Sierra Blanca. When the Sheppards saw the group, the affidavit alleged, “The driver leaned on the hood of the vehicle and fired two shots from a firearm at the group,” and then “re-entered the vehicle and fled the scene.”
Two people were shot—one man died at the scene, and a woman was transported to a hospital in El Paso with a stomach wound. According to the affidavit, members of the group told federal agents who responded to the shooting that “they overheard one of the males shout something in Spanish to the effect of, ‘Come out you sons of bitches, little asses!’ then revved the engine of the truck.” That was when the shooting started.
The two brothers told investigators that they had been in the area, and they had fired shots, but maintained that they’d shot at animals—the story changed from grouse, to ducks, to javelinas—and that they didn’t believe it was at the same location as the shooting. Curiously, they neglected to check to see whether they had actually shot anything, and instead quit their hunting expedition to attend a county water board meeting.
But according to Marfa Public Radio, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has found his own culprit for the shooting of two migrants: President Joe Biden. Per MPR:
In a statement, a spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott’s office called the shooting a “terrible tragedy” and said “violence of any kind will not be tolerated in Texas,” but also tied the shooting to the president’s border policies.
“The Texas Department of Public Safety immediately deployed troopers to lead the manhunt and assist the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, and local law enforcement in bringing these criminals to justice,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said.
Eze also described the shooting as “just another example of how President Biden’s open border policies continue endangering lives.”
“It’s time for President Biden to do his job and stop this humanitarian crisis by securing our southern border,” she said.
Blaming the president of the United States because two brothers allegedly opened fire on migrants in the Chihuahuan Desert is a grim and cynical choice from a Republican governor with presidential aspirations. It is also, in a sense, blaming the victims of the shooting for getting shot; what Abbott is really saying is that this never would have happened if they simply hadn’t been there. But what “humanitarian crisis” are we talking about in this specific case—the ongoing Second Amendment? In reality, migrants face the opposite problem from the one Abbott suggests; decades of increasingly militant closed-border policies, from troop deployments to wall construction, have forced people to take ever more dangerous and riskier routes into the United States at a well-documented human cost.
But this is a landscape with a deep history, and there are echoes of the near and distant past in all of this. About an hour down the road from Sierra Blanca there’s a historical marker for Porvenir, the Texas village where Texas Rangers executed 15 men and boys in 1918 amid a panic over border-crossing “bandits.” Head west and in an hour you’ll reach El Paso, where a man who believed Republican rhetoric of a Mexican invasion massacred 23 people at a Walmart in 2019.
After that last shooting, Abbott said that “mistakes were made” in the language he’d used in a fundraising letter, in which he called on Texans to “DEFEND” the border against Democrats’ efforts to “transform Texas—and our entire country—through illegal immigration.” He seemed chastened, for a moment. But that moment has clearly passed.