Republicans Governors, National Guard and the Texas Border: What to Know

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Republicans Governors, National Guard and the Texas Border: What to Know

AUSTIN, Texas — 

As Republicans cheer on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s escalating feud with the Biden administration over immigration enforcement, some governors are considering deploying National Guard members to the border — again.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday was among the first to commit more personnel to Texas, announcing he would send hundreds of additional guard members as tensions grow between state authorities and the U.S. government over who has the power to enforce immigration policies, where and how.

Republicans say tougher actions along the border are needed in response to record levels of illegal crossings, but sending guard members to the border is not new.

DeSantis is one of more than a dozen Republican governors who have sent state National Guard units to the southern border since 2021. His latest deployment comes as Texas continues to deny U.S. Border Patrol agents entry to a popular crossing spot for migrants in the border city of Eagle Pass.

Here’s what to know about National Guard on the border to date:

What is happening at the Texas border?

At the center of the clash between Texas officials and the federal government is Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, which has become one of the busiest locations for people attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally from Mexico. Earlier this month, troops from the Texas National Guard seized the park and began turning away federal immigration authorities despite pleas from U.S. government officials.

FILE - A Texas National Guard soldier ties rows of barbed wire to be installed near a gate at the border fence in El Paso, Texas, in the early hours of May 11, 2023.

FILE – A Texas National Guard soldier ties rows of barbed wire to be installed near a gate at the border fence in El Paso, Texas, in the early hours of May 11, 2023.

Immigration enforcement is typically a federal responsibility.

Abbott has said he will continue implementing new immigration measures, calling it a “constitutional right to self-defense.” Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal agents were allowed to remove razor wire placed by Texas officers along the border with Mexico, including in Shelby Park.

Texas has since installed more razor wire in Eagle Pass, which was not prohibited under the Supreme Court’s order. The Biden administration has argued that the wiring makes it difficult and dangerous for federal agents to perform their duties.

Other measures taken by Abbott as part of his border security initiative include a floating barrier installed in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, which has also been challenged by federal officials.

Who is sending guard members?

Florida has already sent more than 1,000 guard members, troopers and other officers to the Texas border since last May, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

At least a dozen governors have sent deployments ranging in size from a few dozen guard members to more than 100, including those of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia.

South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem was the first to send 50 guard members to Texas in 2021, which were paid for by a private Republican donor who offered $1 million to make the mission possible. Two years later, she deployed at least 50 more.

Some governors have also looked beyond the National Guard, including Idaho Gov. Brad Little, who said last week he would send additional members of the state police to Texas.

FILE - A National Guardsman walks along a border fence near the International Bridge where thousand of migrants, mostly from Haiti, have formed a makeshift camp, Sept. 20, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas.

FILE – A National Guardsman walks along a border fence near the International Bridge where thousand of migrants, mostly from Haiti, have formed a makeshift camp, Sept. 20, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas.

What do they do?

The most recent guard deployments have been in support of Abbott’s border mission known as Operation Lone Star, which began shortly after President Joe Biden took office.

Many have been used for surveillance, such as spotting illegal crossings. Migrants are then turned over to federal immigration authorities, although Abbott has also empowered Texas National Guard members to arrest migrants on misdemeanor trespassing charges in some areas. National Guard members have also installed barricades and razor wire.

After Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds sent more than 100 Guard members and more than 30 state police to Texas last year, she credited the deployments with being directly involved in dozens of human smuggling cases and arrests.

But South Dakota records show that some days troops had little to do. During a rushed deployment of Texas National Guard members at the start of the mission, some also complained of low morale and uneventful patrols.

Trespassing arrests have been a key part of Abbott’s nearly $10 billion border mission, but may soon be phased out under a new state law, set to take effect in March, which allows police anywhere in Texas to arrest migrants who are suspected of entering the U.S. illegally.

How else is the National Guard used?

Not all National Guard members are helping Texas.

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Maura Healey activated hundreds of guard members last August to aid with an influx of migrants. The members helped coordinate food, transportation, medical care and other basic needs at shelters and hotels.

National Guard members from across the country are also in Texas helping with the border security operations under the command of federal authorities, including from states that have not deployed soldiers to help with Operation Lone Star.

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