Gov. Greg Abbott focuses on border security in first address since Allen and Brownsville tragedies
Abbott announced the deployment of new “Texas Tactical Border Force” units to El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley on Monday and Tuesday.
AUSTIN, Texas (TEXAS TRIBUNE) - In his first public address since tragedies in Allen and Brownsville, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that he’s deploying 450 National Guard soldiers to the southern border ahead of the end of Title 42.
Speaking at a news conference on the tarmac at Austin Bergstrom International Airport on Monday morning, the Republican governor announced the deployment of a new unit called the Texas Tactical Border Force to El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley on Monday and Tuesday. That puts the troops in place before the federal government is expected to end Title 42 later this week.
“The cartels are working in collaboration with President [Joe] Biden and the federal government to facilitate that illegal crossborder,” Abbott said. “We are being overrun by our own federal government. Texas is being undermined by our own federal government in our efforts to secure our border.”
His comments came two days after a man with an AR-15 opened fire at an Allen shopping mall, killing eight people and wounding at least seven others. Less than 24 hours later, eight people were killed at a bus stop outside a migrant shelter when a man drove his car onto the sidewalk. Police investigating that incident have not said whether the crash was accidental or intentional.
Abbott visited Allen for a vigil Sunday but did not speak publicly. He gave an interview to Fox News early Sunday in which he downplayed the role of Texas’ loose gun laws in the shooting and called for mental health services.
On Monday, his main focus was the lifting of Title 42, a pandemic-era health policy that allows the federal government to expel migrants as soon as they cross the border. The measure has been in place since March 2020. Immigration officials have since invoked the policy 2.7 million times to quickly expel migrants from the U.S. without allowing them to request asylum. But Title 42 is expected to come to an end Thursday, when the Biden administration terminates the federal COVID-19 public health emergency.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security expects illegal crossings to top 10,000 per day when Title 42 ends. The Biden administration ordered an additional 1,500 military personnel to the border last week to brace for the surge.
Abbott blames the high number of migrant crossings on Biden for reversing Trump-era policies and releasing migrants into the community while they await immigration hearings.
The governor’s office says the Biden administration did not coordinate with it on the additional federal deployment. But Abbott says those forces are there just for “paperwork.”
If Texas were acting independently, the state would have secured the border, but Biden has put out “the welcome mat,” he added.
Abbott plans to use the new border force to close “hot spots” to stop illegal immigration into Texas, like one he said the National Guard closed near Brownsville just days ago. Previous deployments, which Abbott framed as a precursor to the new tactical unit, have erected border barriers to stop migrants from entering El Paso and closed the border-crossing hot spots.
The tactical force will be equipped with aircraft, boats, night vision and riot gear to help stem border crossings.
On Monday, the state is sending the first two segments of the unit to El Paso and another segment to the Rio Grande Valley. Two more segments, totaling upwards of 200 personnel, will travel to the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday.
As Abbott spoke during the news conference, National Guard soldiers carrying rifles loaded onto C-130 military transport planes, crossing behind him as they marched. When the news conference ended, Abbott stayed on the tarmac, watching the planes take off. He shook hands with some of the National Guard soldiers standing in formation when he arrived on the tarmac.
After the announcement, Abbott was asked about the shooting in Allen and the deaths of migrants in Brownsville.
Abbott was in Allen on Sunday to visit the families of those affected by the shooting, as well as law enforcement, investigators and the community at large. However, investigators couldn’t provide specifics at the time. The gunman, who died in the shooting, was a man in his early 30s and may have had white supremacist or neo-Nazi beliefs, according to reports.
“The first step to leading to some type of resolution here as well as providing information about the response needed from the state of Texas is to know exactly why and how this happened,” Abbott told reporters Monday, noting he believes the public will learn more in the coming days. “That will inform us as Texas leaders about next steps to take to try to prevent crimes like this from taking place in the future.”
He also said he spoke Sunday night with the Brownsville police chief and the Cameron County judge, who expect more information to come out Monday. Officials are investigating whether the crash was intentional.
Abbott also touted legislation working its way through the Legislature, which ends its legislative session this month. One priority bill he identified would make it illegal at the state level to enter Texas from Mexico.
That legislation, Senate Bill 2424, would allow the state to arrest perpetrators and return them to Mexico. Repeat violent offenders could face life in prison.
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