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Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday called Texas’ abortion ban “immoral” and urged Texans to protect reproductive rights as they consider their choices in the upcoming November election.
“A democracy will be as strong as our will to fight for it,” she said during a discussion on reproductive rights at the LBJ Presidential Library on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, as part of of a one-day trip that culminated in an appearance at a downtown fundraiser for Texas Democrats.
While Harris stressed the importance of not only voting for a governor and attorney general who supports reproductive rights, she also noted that local elections are also crucial, especially when it comes to choosing an attorney. District attorneys will now have to decide whether to prosecute Texas doctors and health care workers if they perform an abortion not intended to save the life of the pregnant patient.
Performing an abortion in Texas is now a crime punishable by life in prison. The new state law, which provides only narrow exceptions to save the life of a pregnant patient, went into effect in August, two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The law required Texans to have abortions in other states.
“It will matter who your county attorney is if you live in a place where there is state law that has criminalized doctors, nurses and health care providers,” Harris said.
Harris said the US Department of Justice is working with state attorneys general to ensure Americans have the right to travel, but “not Texas,” she said, referring to the Texas attorney general. , Ken Paxton.
At the fundraiser, Harris endorsed Beto O’Rourke for governor and highlighted for the audience some of the Biden administration’s accomplishments: distributing pandemic relief, passing the reducing inflation, which caps drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries; and passing a heavy infrastructure bill. and make historic progress in addressing the climate change crisis.
But she also spent much of her speech discussing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
“The Supreme Court of the United States just took away a constitutional right that had been recognized by the American people, by American women,” Harris said. “As the extremists – the so-called leaders – trumpet the rhetoric of freedom, they attack the very foundations of freedom.”
She accused elected Texas GOP leaders of suppressing women’s freedoms, calling them “those who pass laws that make it hard for state residents to vote.”
Harris added, “One of those people is the governor of this very state.” Even before the Dobbs ruling, she said, Gov. Greg Abbott and other leaders passed some of the “most sweeping, anti-woman laws in the country.”
Harris warned that unseating Roe was only a first step for Republicans.
“Where do we think this is heading?” Harris asked the crowd. “Judge Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud. Contraception is at stake. Marriage equality is at stake. With Republican Party leaders in charge, health care is at stake.”
One topic noticeably absent from his visit was any mention of immigration.
Shortly after Biden took office, he put Harris in charge of immigration. In June 2021, Harris traveled to Guatemala and Mexico, a trip she said was an effort to address the root causes of illegal immigration. A few weeks after that trip, she toured Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and met with migrant aid groups, but the vice president has yet to visit the Rio Grande Valley, where a large number of border arrests.
Predictably, Harris’ visit drew barbs from Texas Republicans, including Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, who criticized the federal government’s position on the US-Mexico border.
“Texans have been forced to bear the consequences of this administration’s failure to address the border crisis, including the historic number of illegal crossings as well as the tragic increase in migrant deaths, drug trafficking, drug overdoses, fentanyl and cartel violence,” Cornyn said in a statement Friday. “Unfortunately, the administration’s Border Czar did not see firsthand the epicenter of their self-inflicted crisis, which has overwhelmed our border communities and law enforcement.”
Cornyn’s jab at Harris came after Cruz lobbied the Biden administration on immigration, threatening Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas with impeachment for ‘dereliction of duty’ on the southern border in a letter to the department on Thursday.
Federal immigration officials recorded 2.1 million encounters at the southwest border — a record number — in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30. That’s a 24% increase from the entire prior fiscal year 2021. Of those, more than half occurred at the Texas-Mexico border, where officers recorded 1.2 million meetings during the first 11 months of fiscal year 2022.
Caution. These figures include repeated border crossings by people who have made more than one attempt. And these repeated crossings have contributed to increasing the number of encounters.
In March 2020, the Trump administration invoked an emergency health order known as Title 42 that immigration officials used to instantly remove many people trying to cross the border, back to Mexico, including asylum seekers, without having to file a complaint and wait for the official deportation procedure.
Immigration officers register a person attempting to cross more than once in the same fiscal year as a new encounter. The latest recidivism rate available shows it to be at 27%, the highest since fiscal year 2015.
Journalist Uriel Garcia contributed to this story.
Disclosure: The LBJ Presidential Library and the University of Texas at Austin financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors . Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.