The troop deployment is part of a broader border policing surge launched in Texas over the weekend.
(CN) — Texas is sending more than 500 National Guard troops to the state’s southern border with Mexico, officials said Tuesday, part of a broader policing surge launched in response to a recent uptick in the number of asylum-seekers and other migrants entering the U.S.
Since the month before President Joe Biden was elected on promises of a more “humane” immigration system, migrant families and children traveling alone have arrived at the southern border in much larger numbers than during the same months of recent years.
From October to January, more than 296,000 migrants were detained at the border, compared to about 165,000 over the same period a year ago, according to figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Border arrests since October have already reached nearly half the total number for all of fiscal year 2020.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has assailed the Biden administration for getting rid of Trump-era policies like the “Remain in Mexico” program, which forced thousands of migrants to wait out their legal requests for asylum in tent camps on the Mexican side of the border.
Though experts frequently caution that many complex factors drive the ups and downs in migration flows to the U.S., Abbott has placed the blame for the recent increase squarely on Biden’s loosening of immigration policies.
“He does not care about Americans, he cares more about people who are not from this country,” Abbott said during a South Texas press conference with a line of state trooper SUVs as the backdrop.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the governor’s statements.
Major General Tracy Norris, head of the Texas National Guard, announced the troop deployment Tuesday, telling reporters that more than 100 of the troops that will be dispatched to the border were also sent there during previous, similar surges that have become somewhat routine in Texas.
During past deployments, guard troops mostly served as eyes and ears for federal border agents or helped at detention facilities and ports of entry. Norris said the troops in this latest deployment would assist state police with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“We will be doing observation posts along the area that DPS designates for us,” Norris said.
The troops are one part of a broader border policing surge dubbed “Operation Lone Star” that Abbott announced over the weekend.
The move echoes the state’s previous border security efforts during the Obama administration, which frustrated some South Texans who complained of harassment by new-to-town police sent in from other parts of the state. Investigative journalists chronicled how the beefed up police numbers in the region mostly led to a spike in drunk driving busts and traffic tickets.
By contrast, officials said Tuesday the latest surge would involve state police already living in the region.
“The surge right now that the governor ordered is being done by 500 troopers that were assigned the border, that are part of the communities,” Colonel Steven McCraw, director of Texas DPS, told reporters. “We’ve extended their work hours, we’ve moved them from different locations, but they’re part of the community.”
“So some of the issues you heard about several years ago will be non-existent,” McCraw said.
McCraw suggested the new border surge – characterized during the press conference by the row of police SUVs – would be mostly about deterrence.
“The way we do these operations is really about crime prevention, it’s not enforcement, it’s not writing tickets,” he said. “The best way you do that is at the river, highly visible resources, including troopers, but also tactical boats…and we leverage technology.”