The Biden administration and Texas state government are surging personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border to prepare for a possible increase in illegal immigration when COVID-19 restrictions known as Title 42 are set to end on Thursday.
Hundreds of specialized investigative agents and air marshals from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are being pulled from day-to-day duties to help with border management, sources said, leading to pushback from employees who argue they are being reassigned to menial tasks.
At the same time, Texas deployed a specially trained National Guard unit on Monday to target “hot spots” where migrants try to enter the United States illegally, Governor Greg Abbott said.
The moves are part of broader efforts by President Joe Biden, along with state and local officials, to prepare for the end of the Title 42 order on Thursday. The order, in place since 2020, allows U.S. authorities to quickly expel migrants to Mexico without the chance to seek U.S. asylum.
The policy shift is expected to lead to a rise in border arrivals as a result of pent-up demand and the perception among migrants that they will be allowed into the country.
Abbott – a Republican who has criticized the Democratic president’s approach to border security – said members of the new National Guard unit, the Texas Tactical Border Force, were being loaded onto Black Hawk helicopters for deployment and will have access to aircraft, boats, night vision equipment and riot gear. In recent days, the National Guard suppressed migrant crossings at Brownsville, Abbott said at a news conference, the same city where a driver plowed into a group of migrants on Sunday.
Separately, Biden is sending 1,500 additional troops to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border this week.
In addition, 250 to 300 agents with the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be detailed to aid border operations, two U.S. officials who requested anonymity to discuss internal operations said.
A separate official not authorized to speak publicly said the deployment “negatively impacts our ability to disrupt transnational criminal activity,” since many of the agents work on complex cases dealing with illicit drugs, trafficking and other issues.
About 180 U.S. air marshals will be pulled from their jobs securing air travel to help at the border, said Sonya LaBosco, executive director of the Air Marshal National Council, which opposes the deployment.
The air marshals sent to the border will deal with transportation, security and other tasks but not perform law enforcement activities, LaBosco said.