A surge in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border is again causing issues for federal authorities and local officials in Texas.
Border Patrol officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times that thousands of migrants, largely from Haiti, made it across the Rio Grande this week. Agents were working quickly to process them all, but officials told the news outlets there were significant delays.
More than 9,000 migrants were being held in a temporary staging area under the Del Rio International Bridge on Thursday as agents worked to process them all, according to the news outlets. Authorities believe thousands more are set to cross into the Del Rio community in the coming days.
There was confusion Thursday after the Texas Department of Public Safety’s South Texas regional director, Victor Escalon, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said state agencies were asked by the federal government to assist in closing the Del Rio Port of Entry, the location of the recent influx of Haitian migrants.
Abbott said the Biden administration reversed the decision hours later.
But according to the Texas Tribune, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson denied they ever gave such an order.
Abbott has directed the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to maintain their presence at and around ports of entry to deter crossings in the meantime.
Operation Lone Star captures thousands of migrants
Texas officials have implemented local strategies in dealing with what they are calling the “historic surge” in migration. Abbott has referred to the crush of people attempting to cross into the U.S. as a “border crisis.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said there were
2% fewer encounters of migrants along the southern border in August than July. In total, there were 208,887 encounters along the southwest border. Of those, 25% involved people who had tried to make the crossing at least once before in the last year.
Operation Lone Star, the state’s controversial new program enacted by Abbott in March to crack down on border crossings, includes jailing asylum-seekers, making disaster declarations and building a border wall. This program is independent of and sometimes at odds with federal border control efforts.
On Thursday, the Texas Department of Public Safety released data on the program’s work since March. As of Sept. 2, officers had arrested nearly 6,000 arrests of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The migrants arrested by the Texas Department of Public Safety were charged with criminal trespassing, not immigration-related offenses, as only the federal government has the ability to make those charges.
Texas officials also announced Thursday that they awarded an $11 million contract for the construction of a wall and fencing along the Texas-Mexico border.
Critics say some of Operation Lone Star’s measures are unconstitutional.
Abbott ordered his state Highway Patrol to interdict any vehicles — even commercial buses — suspected of carrying unauthorized migrants. The officers use air, ground and sea efforts as well.
Critics say Operation Lone Star is over-policing
Operation Lone Star has resulted in an increase in law enforcement presence in border communities. Civil rights activists have feared that could lead to over-policing of local residents, according to Texas Public Radio.
The Border Report says the deployment of more than 1,000 Texas state troopers to the Rio Grande Valley resulted in a large number of traffic citations issued in four predominantly Hispanic counties along the border.
Over 16% of all citations issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety between March 1 and May 31 were in the counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy on the Texas-Mexico border.
Other reports indicate an increased presence of public safety officials has led to more frivolous traffic citations as more drivers reported being pulled over for no reason.
On top of those concerns, a rise in high-speed chases, frequently involving stolen cars carrying undocumented immigrants, has concerned residents in many communities along the border, according to The Washington Post.
Department of Public Safety agents have been involved in several vehicle pursuits, according to the agency’s data released this week.
In the Del Rio area, Texas public safety officials report car chases are up 774% through July of this year with 236, compared with 27 in 2020. In the Laredo area there is an 86% increase year over year, with 140 in 2021 compared with 75 the year before. Similarly, the Rio Grande Valley saw a 40% increase in pursuits with 163 through July 2021, compared with 116 in 2020.