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Ky. House passes resolution urging Gov. Beshear to support Texas in dispute over border with Mexico

Rep. Richard Heath, a Republican from Mayfield, presents House Bill 9 in the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee in March 2023.
Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
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LPM
GOP Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield is the primary sponsor of the resolution urging Ky. Gov. Andy Beshear to support Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Republican elected officials in Kentucky are joining a nationwide effort to support Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in his attempts to secure the state’s border from undocumented immigrants.

Kentucky House members approved a resolution Tuesday in support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his efforts to secure the U.S. border with Mexico from an influx of migrants.

In the Tuesday vote, 77 lawmakers supported the resolution, joining Republicans across the country as Abbott continues to fight the Biden administration in court over immigration policy and border restrictions. It passed almost entirely on partisan lines, with 17 out of 20 Democrats voting no.

Lawmakers called a special committee hearing for the measure Tuesday afternoon then passed it on the House floor an hour later.

GOP Rep. Rebecca Raymer from Morgantown co-sponsored the resolution. She said the measure is not a “political ploy” to support a Republican governor publicly fighting with a Democratic president.

“It's a matter of national security,” Raymer said. “We're not against immigration. We just want the people coming over here to be documented and come through legally. The way that is set up. There's laws on the books and we want to abide by those laws.”

Unlike a typical bill, House Resolution 57 would not carry the force of law if passed and merely represents the beliefs of the representatives that voted to support it. The measure “strongly urges” Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to express support for Abbott and the state of Texas.

In response, Beshear said in a statement Tuesday that he has shown support for border security under both Presidents Donald Trump and Biden. He pointed to the continued deployment of the more than 800 Kentucky National Guard members along the U.S. border with Mexico.

But Beshear also said he was concerned the resolution, and others like it, support Texas in attempting to supersede federal authority.

“Throughout my time as Attorney General and Governor, I have always avoided pick-a-side politics,” Beshear said in a statement. “I have concerns that today’s resolutions are based on a legal theory that was previously used to support secession. I am a proud American who will always support our one nation under God.”

On the House floor, Lexington Democratic Rep. Lindsay Burke said Beshear’s deployment of National Guard members already shows appropriate support for border security.

“I think that to ask him to speak on the matter is simply political theater,” Burke said. “He has already put our people on the line and there's really no stronger statement of support than that.”

The resolution claims the Biden administration “violated” immigration laws, causing the current “unprecedented influx” of migrants illegally entering the country.

The Supreme Court, in an emergency order last week, sided with the Biden administration, saying border officials have the ability to dismantle and cut through Texas’s self-implemented border defenses — including razor wire fences — in order to save lives. Democrats have also accused Abbott of not following U.S. law around those seeking asylum. The only way for a migrant to request asylum is to show up at a port of entry or to be in the country.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Tina Bowjanowski said in the hearing she is concerned the resolution supports Abbott in “intentionally defying” a Supreme Court ruling, giving the Biden administration authority to remove their state-implemented border security measures.

“I don't disagree that there needs to be reform regarding immigration,” Bojanowski said, “but I think that supporting a governor who is not following the guidance of our Supreme Court is a slippery slope.”

Abbott has waged a multibillion-dollar campaign to deter migrants from crossing the border with Mexico, including installing the controversial concertina wire, a law allowing state law enforcement to arrest migrants, and a buoys barrier in the Rio Grande that may have contributed to a number of drownings.

Multiple representatives compared the influx of migrants to an “invasion,” including GOP Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield, the primary sponsor of the resolution.

“They're coming across in such large numbers. This isn't just illegal border crossing anymore. This is an invasion of our country,” Heath said.

It is unclear what definition of invasion Heath was using, but the word is typically used to describe a military incursion, of which there is no evidence in this case.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate are nearing a deal with the administration to link immigration reform and intensified border security with aid to Ukraine — a deal for which former President Donald Trump has expressed his opposition, potentially throwing a wrench in the gears.

Two dozen Republican governors have already voiced support for Abbott. A coalition of attorneys general, including Kentucky’s Russell Coleman, have also defended Abbott.

“President Biden’s failed open border policy gives drug cartels and criminals a free pass to pour their deadly poison into our country,” Coleman said in a statement Monday. “As a result, Kentucky has become a border state, and our children are at risk.”

Kentucky Republicans have claimed the border crisis is responsible for a number of issues in the state including the drug epidemic, a perceived rise in crime and homelessness.

A 2020 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice found that U.S.-born citizens are twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes as undocumented migrants and four times as likely to be arrested for property crimes. There also appears to be no evidence to suggest that Kentucky’s homelessness crisis was caused by migrants to the state — most advocates agree it is directly caused by a lack of affordable housing.

Democratic Rep. Keturah Herron from Louisville said she was concerned that the resolution did not recognize the ongoing efforts of the state National Guard units who had already been working to secure the border.

“I just want to make sure that we are lifting up our service men and women who are doing that work,” Herron said.

Several other resolutions have also been filed in the House and Senate, with some small differences to HR 57. House Resolution 63, filed by Rep. Savannah Maddox of Dry Ridge, would directly urge Biden “to repel the invasion” at the southern border.

It calls on Biden to bring National Guard members stationed abroad in “undeclared wars” to defend the southern border. The U.S. has not participated in a declared war since World War II. If passed, her resolution would be sent to Biden rather than Beshear.

A concurrent resolution has also been filed in the Senate and is awaiting a committee assignment.

LPM's state government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.