By Tom Ozimek
Texas has bolstered security along the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso by adding shipping containers along the Rio Grande in addition to a mile of razor-wire fencing set up earlier to prevent illegal crossings.
The shipping containers started to be set up earlier this week, according to a statement on Thursday by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who has been at the forefront of efforts to secure the southern border amid a surge in illegal immigration.
“Texas is adding shipping containers to the US-Mexico border in El Paso,” Abbott said in a Thursday post on Twitter. “This is in addition to the razor wire and National Guard. Together, the strategies are causing illegal immigration at that location to plummet.”
While the makeshift border wall is going up in Texas, it’s coming down in Arizona, where outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to dismantle a shipping container barrier in response to a lawsuit from the Biden administration.
Illegal immigration has soared under President Joe Biden’s watch, with unauthorized crossings topping 2.76 million in fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
The eye-watering number broke the previous record of illegal crossings by over 1 million and was more than twice the highest level notched during the tenure of President Donald Trump, who made stemming the influx a major part of his policy platform.
Fiscal year 2023 is on track to break last year’s record of illegal crossings, with both October and November setting records in their respective months for the number of illegal alien encounters.
Abbott, who has long sought to bolster border security and has repeatedly tangled with the Biden administration over what he’s described as its open-border policies, recently ordered hundreds of Texas National Guard soldiers to serve as part of a “contingency border force.”
The soldiers have set up along the river channel separating El Paso from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, with the aim of preventing people from crossing the border illegally.
“This morning, service members deployed to El Paso, Texas constructed a triple-strand concertina barrier near the border to secure the area from illegal crossings,” the Texas Military Department, which oversees the state’s National Guard, said in a Dec. 20 statement.
Members of the Texas National Guard spent Christmas Day adding to the razor-wire border fencing near El Paso.
Maj. Gen. Ronald “Win” Burkett described in a video how over 400 soldiers had been airlifted and more than 40 vehicles had been placed in El Paso over just 72 hours as part of the effort to secure the border.
Burkett praised the work of the soldiers, noting that “they’re focused on deterrence, they’re focused on sending a message that unlawful crossing is not an option.”
Shortly after the razor-wire fence went up near the Rio Grande on Dec. 20, a group of around 75 people seeking to enter the United States through an unauthorized crossing faced off against National Guard members and state troopers, according to the Texas Tribune.
A National Guard service member told the people through a bullhorn that they would be unable to enter through the unauthorized crossing and sought to funnel them to a lawful port of entry.
Abbott’s decision to order more than 400 Texas National Guard personnel to El Paso as part of the “contingency border force” came ahead of the pending expiration of Title 42 restrictions.
Title 42 is the Trump-era rule that has been used around 2.5 million times to block people from making asylum claims in the United States and that has been widely credited as helping reduce the influx.
“The end of Title 42 is expected to lead to a massive influx of illegal immigrants allowing criminals to further exploit gaps while federal authorities are inundated with migrant processing,” the Texas Military Department said in a statement.
The fate of Title 42 remains in limbo, with the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the Trump-era policy to remain in place for now.
Title 42 Back-and-Forth
Texas was among the 19 Republican-led states that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to extend Title 42 restrictions beyond its scheduled Dec. 21 end date. The states argued that ending the policy could lead to a spike in unlawful border crossings.
The Supreme Court has allowed the Trump-era immigration and public health order to remain in place for the time being.
The Biden administration sought to lift Title 42 after U.S. health authorities said in April that the order was no longer needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That move was blocked by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana, in response to the Republican-led legal challenge.
Amid further legal back-and-forth, the Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 27 to keep the policy in place, with the justices announcing they will hear arguments about the program in 2023.
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, who dissented from the ruling, said that the “emergency on which those Title 42 orders were premised has long since lapsed.”
Gorsuch wrote that the “only plausible reason for stepping in” was the surge in illegal border crossings “but the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis.”
The Title 42 order was first implemented in March 2020 under Trump at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reacted to the Title 42 extension with the following statement: “As required by today’s Supreme Court order, the Title 42 public health order will remain in effect and individuals who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will continue to be expelled to Mexico or their home country.”
“People should not listen to the lies of smugglers who take advantage of vulnerable migrants, putting lives at risk. The border is not open, and we will continue to fully enforce our immigration laws,” DHS added.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of would-be border crossers have assembled near the border amid expectations that the Title 42 restrictions would be lifted.
Crisis In El Paso
Before Abbott ordered troops to be deployed to El Paso on Dec. 20, hundreds of people had crossed the border and waited in line to be processed by Border Patrol agents, with many later released into the city.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat, warned that shelters across the border in Ciudad Juárez were filled to capacity, with an estimated 20,000 people looking to cross into the United States.
Leeser recently declared a state of emergency in El Paso amid a surge in unauthorized crossings that has left people sleeping in the streets.
He said the emergency measures will allow the city to access more resources and authority to shelter people, adding that the measures would be even more necessary after Title 42 ends, when he predicted that the rise in the number of illegal border crossings would be “incredible.”
Over the past week, border agents have encountered an average of around 1,000 illegal aliens a day in a 268-mile stretch of the border known as the El Paso Sector, according to figures published by the city.
Earlier, as cold temperatures recently gripped Texas, Abbott asked Biden to deploy federal assets immediately “to address the dire border crisis, particularly in the City of El Paso, as a dangerously cold polar vortex moves into Texas this week.”
In a letter to Biden, the Texas governor blamed “federal inaction” for putting the lives of migrants at risk, warning that the numbers of people crossing the border illegally would rise if Title 42 expulsions end.