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What to know about Texas's militarization of the southern border

President Biden and former President Trump are both set to visit the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, trips that come amid a recent buildup of U.S. National Guard troops in Texas. 

The simultaneous trips — Biden’s to Brownsville, near the Gulf of Mexico, and Trump’s stopping roughly 300 miles north at Eagle Pass — are intended to highlight immigration and border security amid record-high migration levels. 

In fiscal year 2023, which ended in September, 2.5 million undocumented immigrants were encountered trying to cross the southern border, according to data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP). And in December alone, more than 302,000 undocumented immigrants were encountered, the most ever recorded in a month. 

The number of troops at the Texas border is also sky-high, with more than 5,000 of the state’s National Guard troops there as well as several hundred more Guardsmen sent by other states with Republican governors. Another 3,000 federally funded service members are also along the southwest border — with the two camps running separate operations on the ground. 

Such topics are expected to be front and center during the already contentious 2024 election cycle, with animosity growing between state and federal authorities over who has the power to enforce immigration policies and how. 

Trump, the GOP front-runner, has committed to using military force against drug cartels, with or without the approval of the Mexican government. He argues that American troops can help curtail opioid drugs like fentanyl from flowing into the country and killing tens of thousands of Americans. 

Biden has insisted that Congress needs to address border enforcement policy through a bipartisan bill to put billions of dollars more in funding towards the issue, overhaul the asylum system, and give the commander-in-chief new powers to deport migrants. The White House has been pressing House lawmakers to pass such legislations, which would be paired with military aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.  

Ahead of the visits, multiple states have pledged their Guardsmen to Texas, part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ‘s (R) sprawling effort to handle migrants entering his jurisdiction, called Operation Lone Star.

There’s also a separate operation overseen by the Biden administration, with several thousand active-duty soldiers assisting CBP. 

Here’s what to know about Texas’s militarization of the southern border: 

Which states have sent troops? 

Fourteen Republican-led states have sent National Guard units to the southern border since 2021, including Arkansas, Iowa, Idaho, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. 

In February alone, four Republican governors ordered their National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border in support of Operation Lone Star, starting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Feb. 1, who committed up to 1,000 National Guard members to Texas in response to what he called a “border invasion.”  

He followed up by dispatching a contingent on Friday, sending a unit of 50 Guardsmen and 76 Florida Highway Patrol troopers. 

Also pledging National Guard troops to Texas earlier this month was South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who announced she was deploying 60 soldiers to the border; Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who said he will send more of his state’s Guard troops to join the 29 others already deployed there; and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), who announced on X that he would send “50 #Hoosier Guardsmen.” 

The states’ offerings are on top of the more than 5,000 Texas Guardsmen there as part of Operation Lone Star, which began in March 2021. The Guardsmen stretch bands of concertina wire on the American side of the Rio Grande, arrest migrants on trespassing charges, operate drones and man observation posts to try to spot individuals attempting to cross the border, and escort migrants to CBP personnel and facilities. 

But the effort has cost Texas taxpayers more than $4.5 billion and been embroiled in numerous controversies. Troops assigned to the mission have broken intelligence oversight rules with incidents of shootings, mishandling secret documents and spying on migrants online, a joint Army Times-Texas Tribune investigation found. 

How many federal troops are there? 

In addition to the state Guardsmen at the border, U.S. Northern Command heads two federally-funded missions to support CBP. One consists of 2,300 service members, including Army National Guard soldiers, helping CBP with jobs such as data entry, warehousing and surveillance and analysis, according to the Pentagon. 

Another 500 active-duty troops are authorized to assist CBP with surge support — which includes similar logistical, support and clerical jobs the Guardsmen are tasked with — along the southwest border through the end of March.  

“The number of personnel will fluctuate as units rotate personnel in and out of the operation,” a defense spokesperson told The Hill. 

None of the state or federal troops are allowed to enforce U.S. immigration law under the rules of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.   

Clashing operations: 

While immigration enforcement is typically a federal responsibility, Texas officials have clashed with the U.S. government’s actions, with Shelby Park in border town Eagle Pass at the center of the fight.  

Texas National Guard troops have installed rows of razor wire in the park — one of the busiest locations for people trying to illegally cross into the United States. Abbott claimed the wire was slowing down the flow of migrants into Eagle Pass. 

The U.S. government, however, contended that the wire was dangerous to border agents and stopped them from doing their jobs, with the Supreme Court in January ruling that Border Patrol agents could cut or remove the barriers. 

But the Texas National Guard has appeared to ignore that ruling, seizing Shelby Park, turning away federal immigration authorities and continuing to install the sharp wire. 

Abbott justified his decision to disregard the ruling of the nation’s highest court, asserting that fighting an “invasion” of his state “supersedes” federal law.  

He has also pledged to continue further immigration measures, on Feb. 16 unveiling plans to build a National Guard base camp stretching over 80 acres, near the Rio Grande, that could house up to 1,800 troops in Eagle Pass. 

Federal officials also challenged a floating barrier installed by Texas Guardsmen in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass in September. 

Last summer, then-CBP Chief Operating Officer Blas Nuñez-Neto accused Abbott and DeSantis of taking “actions that are being done really for purely political reasons and that do not involve the kind of coordination that we really need to see at the border.”  

Source: The Hill

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