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‘We write with urgency.’ Border group urges Biden to surge resources before end of health policy

Migrants preparing to turn themselves in to the Border Patrol in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR
Migrants preparing to turn themselves in to the Border Patrol in Eagle Pass, Texas.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the Texas Border Coalition said the Texas-Mexico border needs reinforcements ahead of the scheduled end of Title 42.

A group of elected border officials and business owners on Thursday implored the Biden administration to ramp up federal resources ahead of an anticipated increase in migrant crossings into Texas next month.

The anticipated end of Title 42, a rule invoked in 2020 by the Trump administration that immediately expels migrants back to Mexico, requires urgent action, wrote the Texas Border Coalition to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Title 42 is set to end May 11 and comes as the Texas-Mexico border continues to see near-record encounters between federal officials and migrants hoping to seek asylum.

“To address the issues the border region will confront on May 11, we request increased staffing at the land ports of entry, including asylum officers and processing personnel,” said TBC Chairman David Stout. “The additional staffing must include sufficient coordination with and funding for humanitarian organizations to prevent the release of migrants into border communities not equipped to handle an influx.”

Stout is a county commissioner in El Paso, which for months has been the epicenter of the current spike in crossings. Since the federal government’s 2023 fiscal year began in October, agents in the El Paso sector have encountered more than 265,000 undocumented immigrants, according to CBP statistics. That’s about 47,000 more than Texas’ Del Rio sector, which saw the second-highest number of encounters. About 120,000 of the El Paso apprehensions were part of Title 42 enforcement.

The influx forced U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to temporarily shut down the commercial lanes at the city’s Bridge of the Americas late last week.

In his request, Stout urged Mayorkas to consult with local leaders before taking similar action in the future. The El Paso customs district is the second-busiest land port in the country, behind Laredo. In 2022, the United States traded more than $779 billion with Mexico, the bulk of which crossed between those two customs districts.

“We recognize CBP must address any sudden increase in migrants arriving at the ports. We also recognize that efficient and safe operations at our land ports of entry are critical to legitimate trade and travel while protecting our communities and respecting the legal and human rights of migrants,” Stout wrote. “TBC requests that CBP ensure there are sufficient personnel available to address both a sudden migration increase and normal ports operations.”

The request comes as thousands of Texas Department of Public Safety officers and state National Guard units remain on the border as part of Operation Lone Star, a state-led effort initiated by Gov. Greg Abbott shortly after Biden took office. Abbott said on Thursday he has sent “specialized units” to the border as part of the expected increase in crossings.

“Biden ending Title 42 next month will cause an even greater spike in record-high illegal border crossings. Specialized units I deployed are already responding to increased activity in El Paso,” he tweeted. “Texas will use every available tool to secure our border.”

State lawmakers in Austin also continue to advance state-based enforcement measures they say are necessary on the border. Budget writers have also approved an additional $4.6 billion for border security for the state’s next two-year budget.

Other proposals that have gained traction include state laws that would make entering Texas illegally a state crime, a resolution urging the governor to declare an “invasion” at the border, increased the penalties for human trafficking and legislation that would create a new law enforcement unit on the border that would be comprised of peace officers and non-commissioned officers that undergo training. The Texas Legislature gavels out May 29.