Republican governors send National Guard troops to Texas-Mexico border

The Republican governors of 14 US states are sending National Guard troops and other personnel to the border between Texas and Mexicoin a show of force that immigration advocates warn puts endanger human lives and critics denounce as “political tricks”.

Ron DeSantis, from Florida, is the one who has sent the most troops: thousand 100 peopleincluding 500 from the national guard and others as police officers, which is a group about ten times larger than the one sent by the anti-immigration governor in 2021.

Others promised that troops are on their way or will arrive at the border in the next three months from Arkansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and other places, and the governors used words like “crisis” o “war zonea” and accused US President Joe Biden of “failing to repel illegals” in his public statements.

Their haste is in response to the request for reinforcements from the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, which cited an emergency, amid his repeated challenges to federal authority at the border. Abbott indicated that from 2021 “Texas has spent more than $4.5 million on essential border security operationsand the Texas legislature is currently contemplating other 4.6 million dollars for the next two years.”

State personnel do not have the power to process people who cross the border between the United States and Mexico to request asylum, something that corresponds to the federal authority, and experts warn that their presence is confusing, intimidating and can be dangerous.

“In my experience, speaking with migrants, I think that certainly they feel intimidatedsaid Hanne Sandison, director of the refugee and immigrant program at the nonprofit organization Advocates for Human Rights.

He added: “They have very clear and consistent experiences of frightening interactions with some type of law enforcement officer at the border. I think they are not always clear who is who“.

Troops often stand guard on the US side of the long stretches of concertina they have placed along the banks of the river that delimits the border, intercepting people and ordering them to recross the Rio Grande into Mexico, or to wait for federal border agents to arrive.

Among the additional risks rejected persons are exposed to is the possibility of cross the Rio Grande againwhich is knee-deep in some parts and life-threatening in many others, or that the people smugglers take them to even more dangerous crossing points.

“Unfortunately, both Governors DeSantis and Abbott have used intimidation tools in many different ways in the last two years and have put the lives of migrants at risk by doing so in order to score political points,” Sandison said.

The Texas military department said in a statement sent to The Guardian that the Florida National Guard personnel who arrived late last month will deploy from approximately Stepat the western end of the Texas-Mexico border, to Eagle Pass804 kilometers to the southwest, and “will increase forces where necessary“.

“After orientation, Florida National Guard service members will help the Texas National Guard and our Texas Police partners continue to preventing, deterring and intercepting transnational criminal activity between points of entry,” a department spokesperson said.

Shalyn Fluharty, executive director of the law firm Americans for Immigrant Justice, said that in her experience, most migrants she has spoken to will cross the border actively seeking a border patrol agent to whom they can turn themselves in. However, adding other law enforcement personnel and mixing them with national guard troops from other states and other law enforcement personnel was disconcerting.

Republican states send National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border - migrants-texas-mexico
Migrants standing near the Rio Grande after crossing the border, to request asylum in the United States. Photo: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

There is the right to request asylum, regardless of the way in which it is entered.Fluharty said. “And what you see over and over again are people who are kind of forced to go in that way because there is no other option and they came across the river looking for federal immigration agents, not trying to avoid them.”

And he added: “I imagine that it is extremely confusing to find other law enforcement agents who are there at the border and who, in reality, do not have the authority or, more specifically, the necessary preparation to receive highly vulnerable populations. who, after fleeing persecution and harm, seek to turn themselves in to law enforcement in search of protection.”

The other states that have announced plans to send national guard troops to Texas, albeit in far smaller numbers than Florida, are North Dakota, Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, West Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Mississippiwith the aim of also intercepting drug trafficking.

During past deployments of troops from other states to Texas, it has been reported that guard members often had little to do and suffered from low morale.

A Texas agent with experience patrolling the border, who spoke with The Guardian Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprimand, he said national guardsmen from other states were helpful and a “huge deterrent” to migration, and that some enjoyed doing the mission while others did not.

“Many soldiers and cavalrymen complained that they were spending a lot of time away from their family. I think one of the problems we have right now is more of a personal issue among the staff posted here, because their wives are leaving them. The dedication to work can become overwhelming for our spouses“The agent explained, while adding about some visiting troops: “They love what they do and feel that they have a purpose, they were men who worked in retail and now they are here (and) we are lucky to have them. They become a part of the community.”

Abbott’s state border security program, Operation Lone Star, has been highly contentious over issues such as the treatment of migrants, conditions for troops, as well as the legal authority of the state, and the Department of Justice ( DoJ) launched an investigation in this regard.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Meanwhile, DeSantis signed an anti-immigration bill into law last month shortly before formally declaring his candidacy for president.

The law penalizes Floridians who help undocumented immigrants and makes it harder for immigrants to find jobs, while the governor sparked discussions over organizing flights to move immigrants from Texas to Sacramento, California, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, with false allegations promises of jobs and accommodation agreed in advance.

These are human beings, they are not political pawns, and we can and must do better as a country.Sandison said, adding: “To respond in this way is devastating and people will suffer and die.”

The offices of the governors of Texas and Florida did not provide comment..