AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in an executive order Thursday, directed Texas National Guard soldiers and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers to arrest migrants crossing into Texas without legal authorization and return them to the southern border.
The two-term Republican governor said he took the action because of what he called the Biden administration's inability to control surging illegal immigration from Mexico. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that in May, federal authorities processed nearly 200,000 migrants for expulsion in the southwestern United States.
Both Abbott and federal authorities noted that a higher-than-usual number of migrants are crossing into the United States. The governor laid the blame on the administration's plan to end the Trump-era policy called Title 42, which turned away asylum-seekers on the grounds it would help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Abbott said in a statement that the administration's intent to lift the policy helped spur the uptick in crossings.
"The cartels have become emboldened and enriched by President Biden's open border policies, smuggling in record numbers of people, weapons, and deadly drugs like fentanyl," Abbott said. In his executive order, Abbott said cartels view Biden's immigration policies as "la invitación," or “the invitation," to cross the border without authorization.
Abbott touted the $4 billion Operation Lone Star that has sent about 10,000 National Guard troops to the border on extended deployments and beefed up the presence of DPS troopers. Texas is also erecting fencing on parcels of land where the owners have given permission as a countermeasure to Biden's decision to end construction on the border wall pushed by former President Donald Trump.
Under Operation Lone Star, troopers and local law enforcement agencies with assistance from the National Guard have taken migrants into custody on such charges as trespassing as a means to detain them under state law without usurping the authority of federal immigration officials.
In his executive order, Abbott said he has the authority under his emergency powers to direct the Guard and DPS to apprehend unauthorized migrants even if they have not violated state law.
In Customs and Border Protection's most recent news release citing border crossing statistics, the agency's head disputed any suggestion that the administration has adopted an "open-borders" approach.
“Current restrictions at the U.S. border have not changed: single adults and families encountered at the Southwest Border will continue to be expelled, where appropriate, under Title 42,” Commissioner Chris Magnus said. “Our message to those who would try and gain illegal entry to the United States remains the same — don’t make the dangerous journey only to be sent back.”
The agency said that in May 100,699 people were expelled at the border under the Title 42 policy. An additional 90,650 were sent back for crossing under other provisions of federal law, CBP said.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, called Abbott's latest move an election year stunt.
"It’s one thing to say, 'I want to use the power and authority given to me by the public to improve the situation,'" Escobar said. "But it’s quite another thing to use migrants as a prop, to use the National Guard as a political plaything and to use precious resources to try and get himself reelected and position himself to run for president in 2024. Because that’s what’s really going on here."
On Wednesday, the Texas Tribune and ProPublica reported that the U.S. Justice Department was investigating possible civil rights violations under Operation Lone Star. The report cited letters from the DPS and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) that acknowledged the federal inquiry.
TDCJ's letter said the Justice Department had questioned whether “differential and unlawful conditions of confinement based on their perceived or actual race or national origin" were in place for migrants accused of breaking state law and detained in Texas prison facilities.
Contributing: Martha Pskowski, El Paso Times
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Texas National Guard given authority to arrest migrants at the border