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GOVERNOR PUSHES FOR BORDER WALL, GUN BOATS, DEPLOYING NATIONAL GUARD
Less than a month after winning re-election, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has upped his support for Operation Lone Star, adding a pledge to invoke his constitutional right to militarize the state’s position against illegal immigration along the Mexican border.
Local authorities welcome the boost.
Since Gov. Abbott launched the operation that aims to stem the flow of criminal incursion into Texas by reinforcing the border with additional state troopers and more than $4 billion in funds for security, Texas has taken thousands of undocumented immigrants into custody, charged smugglers and drug traffickers with felony offenses and seized scores of narcotics shipments destined for US cities.
Gov. Abbott has described the state’s seizure of the manufactured opiate fentanyl as amounting to a quantity enough to “kill every man, woman and child in the United States.”
The governor has also taken the position that undocumented entry into Texas from Mexico constitutes a crime of criminal trespass.
In a November letter to Texas county judges, the governor described President Joe Biden as abandoning his responsibility to enforce immigration laws, and said he believes the US Congress has “refused to hold the President accountable and has abandoned its own responsibility to use the immigration power given to it” by the US Constitution.
That legislative power, Article 1, Section 8, cited by Gov. Abbott includes granting Congress the power to define and punish piracies and felonies “committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations,” and gives federal legislators the authority to declare war “and make rules concerning captures on land and water.”
The article also gives Congress the authority to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.
“Just two years ago, we had the fewest illegal crossings in decades,” Gov. Abbott wrote of the US-Mexico border in his letter to Texas counties. “This past year under President Biden, an all-time record was set for the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally.
“Texas has forcefully responded to Biden’s open border policies by doing more than any state in the history of America to do the federal government’s job to secure the border,” the governor added.
There is no record of the Biden administration advocating for an open border between the US and Mexico, allowing the free and unhindered passage of migrants between the two nations.
Under Title 42, a US law drafted during World War II in 1944 to curb the potential spread of disease among immigrants, law enforcement agencies were granted authority by the federal government to carry out the immediate deportation of those entering the country illegally. That law was put into renewed practice during the COVID-19 pandemic by order of President Donald Trump in 2020 and remained a vital enforcement tool at the border until this year.
An estimated 1.7 million immigrants were deported from the United States under Title 42 without regard to application for asylum between 2020 and 2022, according to a Migration Policy Institute report on government data.
The study showed that as many as 1.2 million of those immediate deportations occurred under the Biden administration.
Gov. Abbott said earlier this year that he believes city and county governments are frustrated at what he describes as an apparent failure by the current administration to address the issue of illegal immigration.
“They are angry and upset about all of the catastrophes caused by the Biden open-border policies,” the Texas governor said on April 6, “and they are urgently asking for action obviously from the state of Texas, but they know that it’s the Biden administration that caused this open-border problem.”
The governor wrote on Nov. 14 that he is using his constitutional authority to deploy the National Guard to safeguard the border and to “repel and turn back immigrants trying to cross the border illegally.”
Abbott also said he is deploying the Texas Department of Public Safety “to arrest and return to the border immigrants who crossed illegally,” and that he will deploy state troopers to arrest illegal immigrants for criminal activity.
The governor also told judges that he plans to build a border wall in several counties, adding in a separate press release from his office that he expects to secure the purchase of at least 1,700 unused steel panels with which to carry out the project; that he will deploy gun boats; and that he will designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
In his letter’s first reference to an invasion of Texas, the governor indicated he will provide resources for border counties to increase their efforts to respond to the number of immigrants crossing the border.
“Texas has devoted more than $4 billion of Texas taxpayer dollars toward these and other efforts to secure the border and enhance public safety,” the governor wrote. He added that he believes Congress should reimburse the state for the expenses it has incurred in border security.
“Federal officials who will not faithfully execute the immigration laws should face hearings and even impeachment,” Gov. Abbott wrote in his letter to county judges. “Texas has done more than its fair share for far too long. The time has come for the federal government to do its job.”
At the local level, government and law enforcement agencies have been among the first to witness the increase in illegal immigration, notably a surge in the number of criminal attempts at human smuggling along the IH-35 corridor between Laredo and San Antonio.
The La Salle County Sheriff’s Office began reporting in 2020 that its deputies were likely to take part in or observe as many as five high-speed pursuits of smugglers in a single shift. Recent interceptions of smugglers by sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and Border Patrol agents have resulted in the discovery of scores of men, women and children being transported in freight trucks, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
Recent apprehensions in La Salle County included a driver responsible for smuggling more than 60 undocumented immigrants in a tanker truck after he evaded law enforcement officers in a pursuit that ended in a residential neighborhood in Cotulla; and the driver of a commercial dump truck who was found to have 84 immigrants packed into the vehicle’s steel cargo box.
In other recent incidents, drivers and passengers have been killed during their attempts to evade capture. A pursuit between Laredo and Encinal ended in fatalities earlier this year when the driver of a sport utility vehicle steered off the interstate towards a truck stop in Encinal and crashed into the rear of a parked freighter. In another recent case, undocumented immigrants jumped from a passenger van whose driver had taken the vehicle off the interstate near Cotulla and driven onto an earthen embankment, where the van tipped over and crushed one of its passengers to death.
Regionally, a 2021 case epitomized what law enforcement agencies have described as a growing and deadly trend among criminal organizations in recruiting young drivers to transport immigrants through South Texas. San Antonio native Gabriel Salazar, a 19-year-old videographer and social media personality who had over 2.2 million followers on his TikTok platform and 800,000 on Instagram, was killed in late September that year when he sped from law enforcement officers on Hwy 83 in Zavala County. He and his three undocumented immigrant passengers died in the fiery crash of the young driver’s Chevrolet Camaro after it veered off the road, crossed a ditch, flipped over a number of times and collided with some trees.
Law enforcement and collaborating members of the National Guard have likewise sustained losses in their border security efforts. Among those was Spc. Bishop Evans, 22, of Arlington, Texas, a field artilleryman, who died in April this year when he jumped into the Rio Grande to rescue two immigrants who appeared to be drowning. The soldier was washed downstream by the fast-moving current. Investigations later revealed that he was not equipped with a flotation device at the time and had acted on impulse to save others’ lives.
In the month preceding Spc. Evans’ death, at least 23 migrants had drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande, according to a report published in April.
Evans was among at least 10,000 National Guard members who had been deployed to South Texas by Gov. Abbott during the first months of 2022 as part of the Operation Lone Star border reinforcement plan.
Texas Senator Roland Gutierrez took issue with the apparent unpreparedness of the forces deployed by the governor in Operation Lone Star at the time and said he believed that the soldier’s death could have been prevented “if he had been provided with the proper equipment.”
La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez said last week that he believes South Texas residents are feeling the effects of the immigrant surge and the enhanced border security measures in a number of ways, not least of which is the expense.
“The impact on taxpayers is substantial,” Judge Rodriguez said of the cost to support enforcement. “Do we have to expand the county jail? We are seeing so many arrests related to the smuggling crisis – human and narcotic – that we are going to be in a bind very soon.”
Rodriguez will leave office at the end of this month, but said long-term effects of the crisis will outlive most administrations.
“We need to move ahead with caution,” the judge said. “Are we getting to the point where law enforcement is being used as a border patrol? There needs to be a clear delineation. They each have different jobs.
“We are limited in how much we can raise property taxes to pay for this increased demand in facilities and resources,” Rodriguez added. “This puts a lot of counties in a real pickle.”
The judge also indicated he believes public perception of the immigrant crisis is clouded by politically motivated rhetoric.
“The people who are coming in, whether you call them refugees or what, are often victims themselves,” Rodriguez said. “They are having to pay the Mexican cartels to get in. A lot of smuggling is controlled by the cartels. It doesn’t mean that the immigrants themselves are cartel members.”
La Salle County Sheriff’s Office deputies consider themselves part of the front line in state, regional and local defense against criminal incursion. Straddling the IH-35 corridor immediately north of Laredo and Webb County, La Salle is witness to a high percentage of smuggler interceptions. Any additional resources made available to the agency will be welcome, according to Sheriff Anthony Zertuche.
“We believe that a strong law enforcement presence will help deter the criminal element and help protect the people of South Texas whom we are sworn to serve,” Sheriff Zertuche and Lt. Homar Olivarez noted in a prepared statement on the issue this week. “We have to work towards the interception, intervention and interruption of the criminal enterprises that stand to profit and proliferate through the illegal import of narcotics and humans along our border.”
The sheriff and lieutenant added that they believe their officers are faced with an onslaught of criminal forces at the local level in smuggling, with the sheriff adding that politics play no part in the daily work that the law enforcement agency carries out in its handling of the crisis within the bounds of the law.
“In La Salle County, we are dealing daily with the criminals and their drivers taking desperate measures to evade law enforcement, and this puts the motoring public and the residents of our communities directly at risk of harm,” the sheriff and lieutenant noted in their prepared statement. “We will always benefit from additional manpower and resources to combat this traffic.”