EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke square off Friday night in their only televised debate, immigration issues are expected to take center stage.

Border Report’s parent company, Nexstar Media Group, will host the debate at 7 p.m. CDT in the Performing Arts Center at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in the South Texas border town of Edinburg.
The debate will be televised live in several markets throughout the state where Nexstar Media stations operate.

Abbott, a two-term Republican, has been an outspoken critic of what he calls the Biden administration’s “lax immigration policies” and he has been aggressive in using state funds and resources to bolster border security.

In March 2021, he began Operation Lone Star, a state-funded border security initiative. He has gotten state lawmakers to appropriate over $4 billion in state funds for border security measures that include busing migrants to other states, arresting migrants for illegal trespassing and posting thousands of Texas National Guard troops along the Texas-Mexico border.

Abbott says the multi-agency effort has led to the apprehension of more than 300,000 migrants and 20,100 criminal arrests, including 17,600 felony charges. And he reports that since April, more than 11,500 migrants have been bused to other states and cities like Washington, D.C.

O’Rourke, the former Congressman from the West Texas border town of El Paso, has been opposed to the border wall, and has taken a much more lenient stance toward the detention of migrants who cross the border illegally. He has advocated for more immigration courts and expanded rights for DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers.” And he has been opposed to the militarization of the border.

Lately, O’Rourke has indicated he supports troops along the 1,200-mile border that Texas shares with Mexico. This comes after numerous reports of low morale among guardsmen, complaints that they have not received timely pay, and that they have suffered inadequate living quarters.

What O’Rourke feels should be done for troops and whether Abbott plans to send more to the border or rely more on federal law enforcement, could likely come up as the two candidates take the stage Friday night for the hour-long debate.

Natasha Altema McNeely, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) says this will be much more than a statewide debate. She says it will have a national audience.
“This debate, the importance of this specific election is such that there will be a national audience to some degree,” McNeely told Border Report.

She said a lot of interest will be driven by immigration and border-security issues, and she hopes the candidates will clarify their positions and give specifics on their goals, if elected, to what are complicated issues.

“Border security, of course, will continue to be a prominent topic as Gov. Abbott has focused exclusively on that for the last several months,” she said. “Candidate O’Rourke has sought to emphasize other aspects related to immigration and so I think it would be really nice to see both candidates reiterate their positions just so that those who are watching can have a clear understanding of both candidates’ positions regarding immigration.”

She says she hopes having the debate on the border also will help to eliminate misinformation about border towns and illuminate the positives of the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s really an amazing opportunity for the Valley to be featured in such a positive way,” McNeely said. “A lot of the more recent news stories that have focused on the Valley have been negative in nature, so it’s really great that the Valley is being featured as the location for what appears to be the only gubernatorial debate at this time.”

Nexstar is the nation’s largest local television and media company with 200 broadcast stations. The debate will be available to 12 million viewers across Texas. It will air on local Nexstar TV stations serving 14 markets in Texas, including:

  • KDAF-TV in Dallas/Ft. Worth
  • KIAH-TV in Houston
  • KTSM-TV in El Paso
  • KMID-TV in Midland/Odessa
  • KAMC-TV in Lubbock
  • KAMR-TV in Amarillo
  • KSAN-TV in San Angelo
  • KRBC-TV in Abilene
  • KFDX-TV in Wichita Falls
  • KETK-TV in Tyler/Longview
  • KWKT-TV in Waco/Temple/Bryan
  • KXAN-TV in Austin
  • KTAL-TV in Texarkana
  • KVEO-TV in Harlingen/Weslaco/Brownsville/McAllen.

Nexstar also is partnering with Graham Media’s KSAT-TV in San Antonio to make the debate available in the state’s third largest market,  and several radio stations throughout the country are expected to broadcast the debate.

The debate will not be open to the public or held before a live audience.

An hour-long post-show will air in several markets.

Border Report will be at the debate in Edinburg and will provide coverage immediately after the broadcast.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com