Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday authorized the National Guard to help arrest those involved in immigrant smuggling along his state’s border with Mexico, marking the latest get-tough approach officials are trying as the situation deteriorates.
Mr. Abbott moved just hours after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced plans to restart some work on the Trump border wall, finishing technological improvements to sections where the barrier has been built but where President Biden’s work stoppage blocked the rest of the construction.
The Department of Homeland Security announced late Monday that it would expand the use of “expedited removal,” a speedy deportation process, defying the wishes of immigrant rights advocates and bowing to the realities of the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants.
The federal decisions mark a shift for a department that had been steadily erasing much of President Trump’s legacy of strict enforcement of immigration laws.
Mr. Abbott’s move was less of a surprise. The Republican has become the chief opponent of the Biden administration on border policy, and he labeled the surge of illegal immigrants “an ongoing and imminent threat of disaster” for border counties.
“By virtue of the power and authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of Texas, I hereby order that the Texas National Guard assist [the Department of Public Safety] in enforcing Texas law by arresting lawbreakers at the border,” he said in a letter conveying his orders to the adjutant general.
In June, the Border Patrol made 173,483 apprehensions, the highest number in 21 years. Nearly every other yardstick of security and safety also shows deterioration. Fentanyl seizures are up — a sign that more is getting through — and deaths from illegal migration are on the rise.
The number of unaccompanied juveniles jumping the border is also increasing after a springtime lull. Border Patrol agents said this week that they averted a worst-case scenario when they discovered a registered sex offender trying to gain custody of one of those children, a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl.
Mr. Mayorkas, even as he embraced stricter enforcement measures, said the border situation is not as bad as the apprehension numbers suggest.
In testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he said many of those arrested are repeat offenders who were caught, were expelled under the coronavirus border shutdown and then turned around and tried again.
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said it sounded like Mr. Mayorkas was saying he had control of the border and the surge was illusory.
Mr. Mayorkas responded: “We have a plan. We are executing the plan. The plan takes time to execute, and we are doing so.”
The secretary would not answer a litany of specific cases presented by senators in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers said they had been ordered not to arrest illegal immigrant sex offenders.
In one case, Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, said a migrant who had been deported and had a conviction for sexually assaulting a juvenile younger than 14 was allowed to remain free after ICE officers were told to scratch arrest plans.
Another rejected case involved someone who had been convicted of indecency with a child younger than 5 and who is on the lifetime sexual offender registry.
Senators said the thwarted arrests were the result of Biden administration limits on ICE enforcement.
Mr. Mayorkas, though, said he thought sex offenders should qualify as priorities even under the new limits.
“Those types of criminals are a priority for arrest and removal. That is what the guidelines say,” he said.
Mr. Mayorkas also danced around a question about whether he supported nearly $200 million in operational cuts to ICE’s budget or whether he still backed Mr. Biden’s budget, which called for funding to remain steady.
“What I am focused on is the wise expenditure of funds,” Mr. Mayorkas said. Later he added, “in certain respects, I think we should increase it, and in other respects, I think we should reduce it.”
That drew laughter from Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, who had been trying to pin down Mr. Mayorkas.
“I asked a simple question: Do you think the budget should be reduced or not, and you responded like a politician,” Mr. Romney said. “What can I say? I’m a politician, too.”
Mr. Mayorkas continued to disparage wall construction, though he did tell senators that he has begun to finish some work underway during the transition of the administrations.
“I am looking at the projects project by project. In fact, I just approved the implementation of technology with respect to 33 gates that were not previously operationalized,” he told senators. “I also approved in the San Diego sector of our border the implementation of technology to complete that section of the border.”
The secretary touted the expansion of speedy deportations under a process known as expedited removal, which was announced late Monday.
Homeland Security said it would apply to “certain families” that cannot be expelled under the COVID-19 pandemic border shutdown.
Under expedited removal, rank-and-file illegal immigrants can be deported on the say-so of immigration officers, without the chance for a lengthy battle in immigration courts.
Mr. Mayorkas told senators that the move will “bring greater speed without compromising due process to processes that take far too long.”
Immigrant rights advocates were appalled at the decision, which was a striking note of dissonance on policy between the Biden administration and left-wing activists.
“The Biden administration promised to restore the U.S. commitment to a fair, humane and functional immigration system, but they are leveraging the complicated and broken immigration system with one goal: expelling those in need to score political points,” said Jess Morales, co-founder of Families Belong Together. “You can’t build back better if you’re using a foundation laid by White supremacists.”