Texas Gov. Abbott helped spur NY’s ‘migrant crisis.’ He’s in town on Thursday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s politics have shaped New York City’s current immigration debate from more than 1,700 miles away.

Abbott will return to Manhattan to headline the annual New York state Republican Committee gala and fundraiser on Thursday. Political analysts said his appearance at one of the GOP’s leading fundraisers highlights a key campaign strategy for the party in 2024: leaning into voters’ discontent over immigration and playing up fissures among Democrats on the issue.

New York has become emblematic of that strain and division two years into a migrant crisis that has reached far beyond Texas due to Abbott’s efforts. State Republican Committee Chair Ed Cox said campaigning on immigration is how he plans to help the GOP retain control of the U.S. House in November. The GOP flipped four Democratic House seats in New York in 2022, more than any other state.

Two years ago, Abbott began busing migrants from Texas to New York City and other Democratic-led cities in a brazen rebuke of the Biden administration’s border controls. Adams and other Democrats labeled the busing policy an inhumane “political stunt,” but the tactic succeeded in dividing Democrats and making immigration a local issue in states far from the southern border.

Abbott’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment ahead of his visit to the Hilton Hotel in Midtown on Thursday evening.

“The big issue that’s really surpassed the economy is … illegal aliens caught crossing our border,” Cox said. “Who better to represent that issue than Gov. Abbott, the governor of Texas, where the caravans aim?”

Democratic Party leaders say the Republicans’ campaign rhetoric on immigration will fail, and point to Democrat Tom Suozzi’s recent triumph in flipping Republican George Santos’ Long Island congressional seat. In the special election, the GOP tried to portray Suozzi as being weak on border security and immigration. Democrats highlighted Republicans’ unwillingness to act on immigration reform, including compromises forged by a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers.

“Instead of inviting Gov. Abbott to speak at a gala, we encourage members of the NY GOP to urge their far-right Republican colleagues in Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, something they have blocked for decades,” City Hall spokesperson Kayla Mamelak said in a statement.

Abbott’s role in the migrant crisis

New York City’s migrant crisis seemed to spring out of nowhere in 2022. Busloads of migrants from Texas began showing up at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, unannounced and at all hours.

All told, since the spring of 2022, Abbott has spent more than $148 million to bus over 100,000 migrants to predominantly Democratic-run cities, according to a tally reported on Feb. 21 by the Texas Tribune.

New York City, Chicago, Denver, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Philadelphia are among the leading destinations. Abbott has said the tactic aimed to “bring the border” to northern cities and states.

The governor has also sought to greatly expand Texas’ powers to secure the southern border and enforce immigration laws. The Supreme Court in March gave Texas permission to arrest and prosecute migrants suspected of crossing the border without legal authorization, before a federal appeals court blocked Texas from enforcing the state measure.

Adams has condemned Abbott’s busing initiative as “morally bankrupt” and “devoid of concern” for the well-being of migrants, whom he claims are being used as “political pawns.” Adams has also claimed that “Abbott is using this crisis to hurt Black-run cities,” noting that many of the cities that have become top migrant destinations have Black mayors.

But the mayor has also criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis and complained of a lack of federal coordination and financial support — sounding some of the same alarms as the Democratic president’s Republican critics and, increasingly, other Democratic leaders.

New York City has set up over 200 shelters for the new arrivals. The Adams administration estimates the cost of housing and caring for the migrants through June 2025 will reach $10.5 billion.

Abbott’s buses aren’t the only way migrants are landing in New York, as many migrants buy their own bus and plane tickets to the city. But in an age in which social media is often the loudest messenger, immigration researchers said Abbott’s efforts have spread awareness of New York City’s unique right-to-shelter policies, which guarantee every new arrival a shelter bed, at least temporarily.

As of late March, Abbott’s office claims Texas has sent some 40,300 migrants to New York City since 2022. That’s just a fraction of the more than 180,000 migrants who have funneled through the city’s shelter system since spring 2022. Roughly 65,000 are currently staying in city shelters.

“He certainly has forced other parts of the country to deal with the influx of people across the border in a way that they might not otherwise,” said Tyler Anbinder, an immigration historian and professor at George Washington University.

Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said his organization hadn’t even surveyed New York voters on immigration until a few years ago. He said immigration “has not been an issue of that kind of significance in New York, certainly not in this century.” It’s now showing up as a No. 1 issue in both statewide and New York City surveys.

Basil Smikle, a Columbia University lecturer and former executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Abbott’s actions have also sown division among more established immigrants and Black voters, as the Adams administration has blamed the migrant crisis for a litany of budget worries and spending cuts.

“There’s a feeling, particularly among communities of color….who have this sense that there’s not enough to go around,” Smikle said. “And the more you bring in, the more that come in, the less there is for the rest of us.”

The Republican playbook

Cox, the state GOP chair, said he believes focusing on immigration will be a winning strategy for Republicans. That’s notwithstanding the party’s loss in New York’s 3rd Congressional District race, where Republican Mazi Pilip assailed Suozzi’s record on immigration in looping campaign ads.

Cox claimed several factors gave Suozzi the upper hand in the election, including his name recognition, reputation as a moderate, prior incumbency in the seat before Santos, and heavy Democratic spending.

All those factors combined so Suozzi could “deaden” the issue of immigration, Cox said. “But it is not going to work nationally,” he claimed.

Jim McLaughlin, a Republican strategist whose consulting firm has advised former President Donald Trump and gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin in his closer-than-expected race against Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2022, agreed with Cox.

“People get it right now: That every state is a border state,” McLaughlin said.

He added: “Immigration has become the symbol for the failure of the Democrats and Joe Biden.”

McLaughlin said voters see immigration as something that exacerbates bedrock issues like crime, education and the economy.

“The ads,” McLaughlin said, “ literally write themselves against the Democrats on the border issue.”

How will Democrats respond?

Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic consultant and pollster who is the president of the New York-based Global Strategy Group, said he predicts other Democrats vying in contentious races across the state will “take a page” from Suozzi’s successful playbook.

When Suozzi was accused of helping to create New York’s migrant crisis, he leaned into the issue of immigration in his stump speeches and messaging. He sometimes distanced himself from Biden and his party, and campaigned on tougher border control measures. He also attacked Senate Republicans for abandoning a bipartisan border deal earlier this year that included stronger immigration enforcement policies long sought by conservatives.

“The big lesson from that race was to push back on the Republicans,” Pollock said.

“It can’t be just defense; it has to be offense,” he added.

Jay Jacobs, the chair of the New York State Democratic Party, said that’s how the party will move forward this election year.

“We’re not gonna avoid the argument. We’re gonna lean into it,” Jacobs said of immigration. “And we’re going to be crystal clear about what the Republicans have failed to do and why they have failed to do it.”

But Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer said Democrats remain vulnerable, given their inability to address voters’ concerns about scarce resources, as New York City grapples with a housing crisis and budget cuts.

“You can’t say that we’ve got limited resources, and we keep finding billions upon billions of dollars for international affairs. So either we have the money or we don’t,” Greer said. “I think that’s where it’s getting a little more tense this particular election year.”

Smikle also voiced concerns about what he sees as a harsher tone on immigration among New York Democrats, who have typically taken a more welcoming stance toward immigrants.

“The challenge for the Democrats is not to fall into the Republicans’ game plan,” Smikle said. “Because they don’t win by adopting their language. They win by offering better policy alternatives.”

While Smikle said some Democrats’ rhetoric around immigration has been “concerning,” he added, “There is an audience for that, even (in) a Democratic city like New York.”

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