Abbott’s office won’t release many documents, letters related to border truck slowdown

The governor’s office said much of the correspondence expressing concern about his order that choked cross-border commerce should be withheld from public inspection.

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Trucker drivers protest increased inspections at ports of entry What began as border crossing delays this weekend had turned into a protest Tuesday. El Paso Times

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott’s office wants to keep secret much of the correspondence it has received related to the order that led to the massive days-long backups of commercial trucks crossing into Texas from Mexico and caused an uproar in business and political circles. In response to a public information request from the USA TODAY Network, the governor’s legal department said the disclosure of many of the documents fell outside the purview of state open government laws for reasons that ranged from attorney-client privilege to putting the state at risk of terrorism to interfering with law enforcement.

The governor’s office initially released only letters from Abbott to the heads of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Division of Emergency Management instructing them to begin carrying out his orders that were issued ostensibly to assist in securing the state’s southern border. The office did not release several letters it had received from industry organizations and state lawmakers regarding the trucking backlog, even though some of those entities published that correspondence on their websites and shared them with news outlets. Also, a letter from the governors of the Mexican states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas expressing concerns about the inspections order was not released.

After a follow-up question, the office released several examples of news coverage related to Abbott’s border initiative and photographs of National Guard troops in action and of migrants being detained. It also released a letter from the Texas Border Coalition, which is made up of elected officials and economic development specialists from South Texas, complaining to Abbott about the slowdown in commerce. “This measure is hurting Texans and all of those whose business depends on trade along the border with Mexico,” the letter says. “Ports of entry along the border, from Brownsville to El Paso, have already experienced significant delays, with border crossing times that have substantially increased from minutes to several hours.”

The governor’s office requested an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton to determine whether other documents fall under state open government laws or whether they can legally be withheld from public inspection. Under the state’s Public Information Act, which was passed in 1973, myriad documents kept by governmental entities are “presumed to be subject to required public disclosure” unless the government can cite “a compelling reason to withhold the information.” In his office’s Public Information Act Handbook, Paxton in the foreword endorsed the spirit of the 49-year-old law.

“Texans have the right to see how their government is spending their tax dollars and exercising the powers they have granted it,” he wrote. “That knowledge is essential to preserving the rule of law, protecting the democratic process, and defending the liberty we all cherish.” Abbott, who has been a fierce critic of Democratic President Joe Biden’s border and immigration policies, ordered on April 6 that every commercial truck crossing an international bridge into Texas be delayed while DPS troopers inspected them for safety.  Previously, such inspections were made during random spot checks that kept the vehicles moving at an orderly rate.

Groups such as the Texas International Produce Association, the Texas Trucking Association and managers of cold storage facilities pleaded with Abbott, a Republican who is seeking a third term in November, to rescind his order. They said it was causing more strain on an already stretched supply chain and driving up consumer prices. Even Abbott’s fellow Republican, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, called the order “political theater.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the inspections “unnecessary and redundant.” 

More: Chihuahua governor reaches deal with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over cross-border trade slowdown in El Paso Abbott lifted the trucking inspection order in increments after reaching agreements with the governors of the four Mexican border states that each would do more to reduce unauthorized entry into Texas.

No illicit drugs or evidence of human smuggling were found during the inspections. Last week, The Dallas Morning News reported that Mexico Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier has decided not to include Texas for the county’s planned commercial rail line, citing Abbott’s trucking policy as the reason. Instead, the line will cross into Santa Maria, New Mexico, about 20 miles west of El Paso.

“We can’t leave all the eggs in one basket and be hostages to someone who wants to use trade as a political tool,” Clouthier said. More: Beto O’Rourke: Gov. Greg Abbott’s truck inspection policy is ‘bad for Texas economy’

Abbott’s press office did not immediately respond to questions about why it was withholding correspondence related to the trucking order that has already been made public or whether Abbott sent any written responses. Former U.S. Rep.

Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said elected officials should err on the side of transparency when it comes to public disclosure. “Greg Abbott holds a position of public trust,” he said. “That position belongs to all of us, as does the information you have requested.” John C.

Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin.

Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.