By Tom Ozimek
Texas National Guard troops deployed to El Paso have constructed a razor-wire barrier along the Rio Grande and have been blocking people from making unauthorized crossings into the United States amid a migrant surge and legal back-and-forth about ending Title 42, a Trump-era rule that helped stem the tide of illegal immigration.
Acting under orders from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, several hundred soldiers that are part of a “contingency border force” 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.
The Texas National Guard told media outlets that its service members are trying to funnel asylum-seekers to designated ports of entry while their “primary goal” is to prevent “illegal crossings into Texas.”
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 on Tuesday, according to the Texas Tribune, which reported that a National Guard service member told them through a bullhorn that they would be unable to enter.
Abbott ordered more than 400 Texas National Guard personnel to El Paso on Monday as part of a “contingency border force” being deployed in response to high levels of illegal border crossings in recent times and 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.
Abbott’s “enhanced border security effort” will include the deployment of a Security Response Force that includes elements from the 606th Military Police Battalion, which the Texas Military Department said is “trained in civil disturbance operations and mass migration response.”
Tens of thousands of would-be border crossers have assembled near the border amid expectations that the Title 42 restrictions would be lifted.
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.
Chief Justice John Roberts granted the request, prompting the Biden administration to ask the high court to lift Title 42 but give it some time to prepare for an influx in illegal border crossings.
The Biden administration wants the restrictions in place until the end of Dec. 27 if the Supreme Court were to act before Dec. 23. If the court acts on Friday or later, the government wants the limits to remain until the second business day following such an order.
“The government recognizes that the end of the Title 42 orders will likely lead to disruption and a temporary increase in unlawful border crossings. The government in no way seeks to minimize the seriousness of that problem,” a Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyer said in a Supreme Court filing.
The lawyer added that “the solution to that immigration problem cannot be to extend indefinitely a public-health measure that all now acknowledge has outlived its public-health justification.”
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, who sued along with other organizations to end Title 42, said Abbott has no legal right to stop migrants from seeking asylum anywhere on the border. “What Texas is doing by preventing people from seeking asylum is patently unlawful and should stop immediately,” he said in an interview.
Before troops deployed to El Paso on Monday, 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 on Sunday 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 1,500 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.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement on Tuesday that over the past week, agents have moved more than 3,400 illegal aliens by expelling them to Mexico under Title 42 or flying them back to their home countries via ICE expedited removal flights.
In a bid to ease pressure on El Paso, agents have also moved 6,000 aliens from the area to other sectors for processing.
“Average daily encounters have also dropped 40 percent—from roughly 2,500 a day to roughly 1,500 a day—over the last three days as we continue to work with partners in Mexico to discourage disorderly migration and disrupt criminal smuggling operations,” DHS said in the statement.
With cold temperatures gripping Texas, Abbott asked President Joe Biden on Tuesday 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.