Texas Gov. Abbott preempts critics with pivot to stronger border security posture

Amid complaints from local law enforcement and county officials about inadequate support from the state, the governor announced that the Texas National Guard apprehended illegal immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley at the Texas-Mexico border. 

Updated: August 26, 2021 - 10:35pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Gov. Greg Abbott announced today that the Texas National Guard apprehended illegal immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley at the Texas-Mexico border. 

The announcement comes after his office sent out a statement earlier this week that the guardsmen were making arrests after mounting complaints from local law enforcement and county officials that they weren't. The governor has still not deployed military resources to counties who asked for aid in emergency declarations filed with the state beginning in April. 

At a recent trip to the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector Processing Center, guardsmen were observed performing administrative duties, stapling paper, taking out the trash, wearing guns without magazines, and scrolling through their cell phones. 

Local law enforcement say guardsmen are green weapon status only, meaning they are not authorized to fire in defense. Asked to confirm their weapon status, the Texas Military Department said in an email: "Service members assigned to this mission [Operation Lonestar] are fully funded in a state active-duty status and are equipped with the appropriate level of personal protective equipment required for their assigned duties. Due to operational security, we cannot discuss weapon status."

When asked to provide arrest information, the Texas Military Department said: "We have approximately 700 Texas Guardsmen assigned to Operation Lone Star. As part of the mission and in support of the Texas Department of Public Safety and local authorities The Texas Military Department will continue to provide over watch support. At the direction of the Governor Abbott, Texas Guardsmen will assist DPS and local authorities with arresting individuals for state charges related to the border crisis."

The agency said DPS could provide arresting information. DPS did not respond to requests for comment asking how many arrests have been made by guardsmen.

Multiple requests for comment from the governor's office were not answered. However, after the requests were made, Gov. Abbott's press office sent out photos depicting guardsmen at the Rio Grande River in an undisclosed Border Patrol Sector appearing to hold AR-15s with magazines in them. 

Governor Abbott praised their efforts saying, "The Texas National Guard is playing an unprecedented role to secure the border because of the unprecedented refusal of the federal government to fulfill its obligations under federal law."

In March, Gov. Abbott launched Operation Lonestar, deploying roughly 1,000 DPS personnel and 500 State Guard to the Texas border. Initially, guard duty was described as overwatch and observatory, providing assistance to Border Patrol agents on the ground. But none are in the bush or on private property pursuing illegal immigrants who bail out of cars when being pursued by law enforcement, or are protecting residents on their private properties.

After months of Texans calling on the governor to grant the guard arresting powers, Abbott issued an order on July 27 to Major General Tracy R. Norris, adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, directing that "the Texas National Guard assist DPS in enforcing Texas law by arresting lawbreakers at the border."

This week Abbott said, "the Guard is now authorized to enforce Texas law, including arresting people who have crossed the border illegally and violated Texas law. They are working with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and local law enforcement to increase border security."

In response to the southern border being overwhelmed by illegal immigrants and an associated rise in crime, the cartels running human and drug trafficking operations, and county resources being drained, 34 counties in Texas issued formal disaster declarations. The first to do so was Kinney County on April 21. 

In the formal declarations, the counties asked the governor for additional law enforcement and "state military forces to aid in controlling conditions in the county by assisting the County Sheriff in the enforcement of law and the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the county."

Headquartered at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, the TXSG functions as an organized state military established through federal and state law. It isn't subject to federal activation, and its commander in chief is the governor of Texas. 

Many Texas guardsmen have been deployed overseas, and their leaders at the highest command levels have served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are trained and equipped for combat, not to be assistants to DPS or Border Patrol or not to engage the enemy, Abbott's critics argue.

Former congressman and combat veteran Lt. Col. Allen West is challenging Abbott for the 2022 Republican gubernatorial nomination. He argues that Abbott has abdicated Texas' sovereignty and that he as a military leader would know better how to secure the state's border. 

West says he "will prepare, mobilize, and deploy the full strength of our Texas National Guard and Texas State Guard to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance missions along our border with the purpose to interdict the flow of persons and drugs along known infiltration routes. Simply building a wall is not a panacea; you must have boots on the ground and additional electronic surveillance measures."

West says he would also designate the Mexican cartels as transnational criminal and terrorist organizations, and freeze their financial assets in Texas. Abbott has called on the Biden administration to designate the cartels as terrorist organizations. 

West says he would arrest anyone working with the cartels, including those in real estate and banking who are enabling cartel networks to operate throughout the state, including "cracking down on real estate agencies that enable 'stash houses.'"

West vows that unlike Abbott — who has sent letters of requests to the Biden administration related to border security, human trafficking and the alleged abuse of children, the spread of COVID-19 through the release of illegal immigrants into the community and other actions — he would not ask the federal government for permission to protect the sovereignty of Texas or to protect Texans who are fearful of their lives.

"Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 of the Constitution clearly states that if a state is facing threat of invasion, which Texas is, the state can act without delay," West says. "The federal government has abdicated the constitutional duty and responsibility" to protect the southern border.

As commander in chief of the Texas military, West said in an interview, he would deploy the entire guard, break them into sectors, position them along the wall and along the Texas border, provide aerial and ground surveillance. He would also shut down ports of entry along state roads, something Texans have called on Abbott to do, but which he has not done.

In July, a banner was hung over a pedestrian bridge in Juárez, Mexico, at a crossing into El Paso, Texas, threatening to kill U.S. Border Patrol agents and Mexican police who attempt to stop cartel human and drug smuggling efforts. The English translation of the banner reads, "Bullets can also cross the river and the (border) wall," and it was signed in foul language roughly meaning, "the main man in all of Juárez."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was investigating the threat and and that it "will be handled accordingly and not taken lightly." 

Less than one month later, in early August, Border Patrol agents in the El Paso Sector, within a period of 24 hours, took cover from being shot at by multiple rounds fired from across the international border of Texas and Mexico. 

A spokesperson for the FBI El Paso Division  said it was "working with our law enforcement partners across the border" and was investigating the matter.

West said these acts are a declaration of war, and should be responded to as such.