Texas is sending 1,000 more National Guard troops to its border with Mexico in response to the continuing influx of migrants, many of them families.
“The crisis at our southern border is unlike anything we’ve witnessed before and has put an enormous strain on the existing resources we have in place,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a Wednesday briefing with legislative leaders at the state Capitol. “With the deployment of these troops, we are taking action to confront the crisis at the border and keep potentially dangerous criminals and illegal activity out of our communities.”
Abbott said the additional troops would serve a “short-term mission” assisting at temporary holding areas and ports of entry. The extra troops bring the total serving on the Texas border to more than 2,000, according to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Nearly 600,000 migrants have been caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since the fiscal year began in October, a 13-year high, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Another 82,808 migrants, many of them traveling in families, have arrived at the border seeking asylum during the same period.
Migrants have overwhelmed Border Patrol temporary holding areas, which were designed for 4,000 people but hold about 15,000, according to John Sanders, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. The most severe crowding has been in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, where massive emergency tent shelters have been erected in recent months.
The Border Patrol can transfer migrants to longer-term detention facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but those facilities already hold about 52,560 people, 5,000 more than the agency forecast in its 2019 budget.
The facilities may take in even more migrants next week. ICE officials have said they plan to begin large-scale raids across the country to apprehend more than 2,000 people who have deportation orders against them.
On Friday, House Democrats unveiled a $4.5-billion emergency funding measure for the Border Patrol and other agencies caring for migrants. It is scheduled for a floor vote next week.
The Health and Human Services Department is planning to open emergency shelters at Ft. Sill Army Post in Oklahoma and south Texas to house 3,000 youths while other shelters have started scaling back on new programs and supplies, officials said.
“All of these actions are necessary because Congress has failed to do its job,” Abbott said. “They talk about a humanitarian crisis and about reforming an immigration system, all the while refusing to pass laws to fix the problem.”
Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who visited a Border Patrol migrant holding area this week in the town of Clint, outside El Paso, said she was told that the facility housed 250 children, including babies, and that some had been held for three to four weeks, despite laws requiring that they be turned over to Health and Human Services within 72 hours for placement in shelters.
Her team of doctors and migrant advocates talked to 30 youths, some of whom said they had not been allowed to bathe for weeks. Many were too young to wash or feed themselves, and were left in the care of unrelated older children, she said.
A 3-year-old had “matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” Long said, adding that his only caretaker for the last three weeks was his 11-year-old brother.
“There did not appear to be any arrangements for basic child care,” she said. “A lot of the kids seemed to be sick.”
Long said she and other observers — who visited the station as a condition of a federal court settlement governing conditions under which migrant children can be held — were denied access to at least nine children with the flu who had been quarantined in special cells.
Several infants held at a migrant processing center in McAllen, Texas, were recently taken to a hospital after doctors and lawyers intervened, Long said.
A Border Patrol spokesman released a statement late Friday saying the agency “leverages our limited resources to provide the best care possible to those in our custody, especially children,” even as he acknowledged that temporary holding areas were not designed to house them.
He said the agency transfers children to Health and Human Services “as quickly and expeditiously as possible to ensure proper care” and investigates all allegations of civil rights abuses or mistreatment of those in Border Patrol custody.