McALLEN — Gov. Greg Abbott visited and shook hands with attendees of a news conference held Wednesday at McAllen City Hall in which he ceremonially signed into law a bill that had already gone into effect earlier this month, an event that resembled a campaign stop.

The visit was the second such stop the governor had made to the Rio Grande Valley this month, the first being when DHR Health in Edinburg announced their Level 1 Trauma Center designation on Sept. 8. Abbott joined that event to ceremonially sign into law Senate Bill 827 — a bill that had already gone into effect at that point which limited co-pays to $25 for each insulin prescription per month for insured Texans.

The bill highlighted during Wednesday’s news conference, Senate Bill 576, increased the criminal penalty for human smuggling when a payment is involved. SB 576 also eliminates the requirement of proof for prosecution that a smuggler intended to receive payment for the crime of human smuggling.

The bill was authored by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

“Human trafficking is a horrific crime that preys upon, especially, women and children,” Abbott said, “and what happens to those women and children who are trafficked is unspeakable and we, as a state, are committed to making sure that we do all we can to reduce human trafficking.”

He said blamed the Biden Administration’s “open-border” policies for what he said was a dramatic increase in human smuggling which he said, in turn, led to an “unprecedented” amount of fentanyl being smuggled in to the country.

However, immigration advocates say that Abbott previously misrepresented the numbers of fentanyl being smuggled across the border.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa criticized Abbott for his statements, accusing the governor of villainizing refugees and asylum-seekers.

“The governor points to drugs coming across the border but conveniently leaves out the fact that the majority of illegal drugs come in through the legal ports of entry and not by someone swimming over the Rio Grande,” Hinojosa stated. “Even if he did care about the effects of drugs in our community, he and the Republican-led legislature place little to no emphasis on substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation programs across the state and with no future thought on how to decrease prison populations.”

 Hinojosa further accused Abbott for his response to the  winter freeze that led to more than 200 deaths and accused the governor of not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.

“The governor is desperately trying to scapegoat and distract away from his own neglect of his responsibilities,” Hinojosa said. “But Texans know our governor has failed us deeply, and no one has failed the border more sorely than Greg Abbott.”

Before the start of Wednesday’s event, Abbott met with city leaders to discuss the city’s future and goals for economic development, he said during the news conference.

He then praised McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos’ vision for the city and presented him with a proclamation for being sworn in as the city’s 20th mayor. The proclamation had also already been issued back in June.

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View Monitor photojournalist Joel Martinez’s photo gallery of Greg Abbott’s visit to McAllen here:

Photo Gallery: Abbott visits McAllen in ceremonial event