Texas governor admits “mistakes” in immigration rhetoric

Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas said Thursday that “mistakes were made” when he sent a fundraising mailer that called on supporters to “defend Texas” from illegal immigration. The letter was dated just one day before a gunman targeting Mexicans killed 22 people in El Paso.

The letter was condemned as racist and anti-Latino by the Texas Democratic Party after it surfaced last week. Abbott came under more criticism the following day from El Paso lawmakers for tweeting that “liberals” on the U.S. Supreme Court had required Texas to pay for schooling for students who are not in the U.S. legally.

The lawmakers called the tweet “dangerous” in the wake of the August 3 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, which authorities say was carried out by a gunman who posted a racist screed online railing against an influx of immigrants to the U.S.

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Taken together, the mailer and tweet have put a spotlight on Abbott’s hardline rhetoric at a time when he has urged unity in the aftermath of the mass shooting.

He spoke about the letter publicly for the first time Thursday before leading a meeting in El Paso with lawmakers, gun activists and family members of those killed at the Walmart.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott  Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images

“I did have the opportunity to visit with the El Paso delegation and help them understand that mistakes were made,” Abbott said. “And a course correction has been made. And I emphasized the importance of making sure the rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way. And we will make sure that we will work collaboratively.”

Speaking briefly to reporters, Abbott did not elaborate on what mistakes had been made or by whom, and he did not say what corrective actions have been taken. Democrats, meanwhile, took note that Abbott did not explicitly apologize.

“Governor Abbott has an apology to make. The eyes of the world are on us,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

Democrats have compared Abbott’s language to the divisive words used by President Donald Trump, whose critics say has fostered the kind of anti-immigrant hatred that the El Paso gunman posted online. Since the shooting, Trump has defended his rhetoric and denied stoking divisions that spawned the violence, contending that he “brings people together.”

Abbott was joined in El Paso on Thursday by his wife, Cecilia Abbott, who is Hispanic. When he was elected governor in 2014, Abbott fared better with Hispanic voters than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Texas since George W. Bush, and last year he soundly defeated a Hispanic former sheriff to win a second term.

“My family is [a] blended family. My wife is the first Hispanic first lady in Texas. Her family came from Mexico,” he said, CBS DFW reported.

But Abbott also signed one of the nation’s toughest “sanctuary city” bans in 2017, which was condemned by Latino groups, and he has aggressively pushed for voting restrictions that critics say target the state’s booming Hispanic population.

Abbott has said Texas will crack down on extremist groups after the El Paso shooting. Federal prosecutors have also said they’re weighing hate crime charges against the suspected gunman, Patrick Crusius.

“If you look at his manifesto, you will see time and again, his target was Texas, the Texas culture, Hispanic community and blended communities,” Abbott said.

The Associated Press reports Democratic lawmakers in Texas were also critical of Abbott for not calling for more stringent gun control legislation, like an assault weapons ban.

“Next legislative session, or if there is a special session, that is going to be an issue that will be raised through a bill. Because as we mentioned earlier, we all feel there should be a ban on assault style weapons,” said state Representative Evelina Ortega.

Abbott had started the meeting emphasizing the need to keep guns away “deranged killers” while also protecting Second Amendment rights.

“We talk about strategies where we can ensure that we can keep guns out of the hands of deranged killers like the man who killed people here in El Paso. While at the same time ensuring that we protect second amendment rights,” Abbott said.

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