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Texas National Guard has arrested tens of thousands of illegal immigrants at Mexican border

By Anna Giaritelli,


AUSTIN, Texas — National Guard members deployed in Texas by Gov. Greg Abbott have arrested more than 32,000 people on state trespassing and human smuggling charges as part of a highly unusual operation that has turned soldiers into law enforcement officers, the Washington Examiner has learned.

Most of those arrested are noncitizens who illegally crossed the international border from Mexico into Texas and, in doing so, trespassed onto private land, according to a spokeswoman for the Texas Military Department. The arrests began in July and the numbers go through late October.


The military department has sent “thousands” of National Guard members to the border and has "thousands more coming,” the spokeswoman said, one indication that migrant and smuggler arrests are expected to rise further in the coming months.

Under normal circumstances, members of the military are not allowed to make arrests or enforce laws. Until July, any state military forces sent to the border assisted Border Patrol, state police, and local law enforcement in ways that did not cause them to interact with migrants. They manned surveillance cameras and watched the border, among other tasks.

The Posse Comitatus Act forbids federal military like the U.S. Army from enforcing civilian law without the approval of Congress, explained Lora Ries, senior research fellow on homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Texas found an exception by sending in its own National Guard.

“Up into this point, when the president has sent down the Guard, it's been a supporting role,” said Ries. “This is a state commander telling state Guard to enforce state laws. And when these people cross the border and set foot in Texas, they're breaking state laws. And so the state Guard then can arrest for state crimes.”

The Republican governor in March created a statewide initiative known as Operation Lone Star in which state troopers from DPS would be sent to the border to help arrest trespassers while Border Patrol agents are pulled from the field to transport and process people in custody.

In a letter sent on July 27, Abbott ordered TMD Major General Tracy Norris to take new action. Abbott cited Article IV, Section 7 of the Texas Constitution’s authority for the governor to "call forth the militia to execute the laws of the State” and instructed Norris to do so.

Those arrested by the military would be transferred to law enforcement to be booked into the system. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw acknowledged that the military doing police work was unusual.

“Nobody’s ever really used the Guard before in this capacity,” McCraw said in an interview with Todd Bensman, a fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies, a right-leaning research group in Washington.

The Guard members were required to complete 40 hours of training on the Fourth Amendment and the use of force since they are authorized to use their weapons.

State officials would not provide additional information about the border operation, though Bensman wrote in a recent report for CIS that the state is only arresting men. Women, children, and families are turned over to the Border Patrol. More than 140 landowners have agreed to let the state erect fencing on their land and to "become complainants in misdemeanor-level criminal trespassing cases that DPS officers will charge (and have been charging since July)."

It is not clear what the state is doing with the tens of thousands of migrants apprehended for illegally crossing the border since just 1,300 have been charged with trespassing to date, according to Bensman's report.


Between the unprecedented military arrests and arrests by state police, Texas authorities have taken into custody more than 80,000 this year, the governor's office and TMD told the Washington Examiner.

Of the 80,000 figure, 73,000 were apprehended by soldiers and troopers for trespassing as illegal immigrants. More than 7,000 others were arrested on allegations of committing a state crime, such as human or drug smuggling, according to Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze.

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