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In April, Governor Greg Abbott ordered state police to inspect every commercial vehicle entering Texas through a port of entry, saying the painful step was necessary because the Biden administration was not doing its job to secure the border.
Drug cartels, Abbott said, used “dangerous commercial trucks” to smuggle “immigrants, deadly fentanyl and other illegal goods” into the state. “Enhanced commercial vehicle inspections” at the border have caused hour-long delays at inland ports, essentially stalling trade with Mexico and costing Texas businesses millions in losses.
After a week and a half, Abbott ended the inspections, announcing what he called historic security agreements with governors of border states in northern Mexico that he said would slow the flow of drugs and immigrants to across the border.
But three months later, in a heartbreaking reminder of the risks migrants take to enter the country, authorities discovered an abandoned tractor-trailer in San Antonio late Monday that contained the bodies of 46 dead migrants – five more died after being transported to premises. hospitals.
For immigration experts, the incredible loss of life inside the same type of commercial vehicle that Abbott had targeted during his inspections illustrates how difficult it is to stem migration into the country, even s he has spent the last year pouring billions of state dollars into securing the border.
“Every data point we’ve seen on migration to Texas from Mexico shows that migrants are arriving at the border in the same numbers as before,” said Adam Isacson, regional security expert at the Washington Office for the United States. Latin America. “There is no numerical evidence that this had a numerical impact on migrant flows.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have had more encounters with migrants at the country’s southwest border in the month since Abbott-mandated vehicle inspections and governor deals mexicans. The agency reported 239,416 encounters in May compared to 235,478 encounters in April, when Abbott announced its new border security efforts. In March, the agency recorded 222,339 encounters.
Abbott’s commercial vehicle inspections were just one of many border security efforts the governor rolled out in April as he tried to pressure President Joe Biden to keep the Title 42, a Trump-era public health order that the federal government used during the COVID-19 pandemic to turn back millions of migrants at the border, even those seeking asylum. Biden had planned to end the order in May, but a federal judge blocked him from doing so days before its scheduled end.
Abbott’s other plans included busing migrants into Washington, D.C., placing state troopers in riot gear at the border to meet migrants, and installing accordion barbed wire at crossing points in low tide of the Rio Grande to deter migrants.
After news broke of the migrant deaths on Monday, Abbott, a Republican, pointed the finger squarely at the Democratic president.
“These deaths are on Biden,” Abbott tweeted Monday night. “They are the result of his deadly policy of open borders. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.
Abbott’s tone was noticeably softer when a similar tragedy unfolded in 2017. Thirty-nine migrants were found in sweltering conditions in the back of a commercial truck in San Antonio – 10 eventually died.
“Human trafficking is an epidemic that Texas is working to eradicate,” Abbott said at the time, when Donald Trump was still president. “To that end, Texas will continue to provide protection to victims who have been denied their most basic rights and bring down the full weight of the law for the perpetrators of this despicable crime.
Responding to questions about whether his April border security measures were successful, Abbott again said that “this horrible tragedy” could have been avoided “if President Biden had done his job and secured the border” and added that the federal government “is complicit with Mexico”. human trafficking business of the cartels, encouraging migrants to risk their lives by failing to enforce our country’s laws and allowing historic levels of illegal crossings.
“Texas continues to respond to the border disaster created by President Biden by deploying thousands of Texas National Guard troops and DPS soldiers in Operation Lone Star to seize millions of lethal doses of fentanyl and stop illegal crossings between checkpoints and entry points,” Abbott said in a statement. “President Biden was sworn to uphold the laws of our nation – it’s time he started honoring that oath and securing our southern border.”
Abbott did not respond to questions about the effectiveness of his border security efforts or whether he would again impose “enhanced commercial vehicle inspections” at ports of entry, as he warned he would. would do if the number of migrants at the border did not decrease.
The state is expected to spend more than $4 billion on border security during its current two-year budget cycle, which will go toward building a state-funded border wall with Mexico and deploying thousands police officers and members of the State National Guard. For years, Democrats, who are a minority in the Legislature, have complained that there are no parameters to justify the billions of dollars the Republican majority allocates to border security efforts each biennium. .
Immigration experts have said Abbott’s argument that Biden doesn’t enforce immigration laws doesn’t hold up. Title 42, the public health order implemented by Trump, is still in effect as a federal judge blocked Biden’s efforts to lift it.
The policy has been used more than 2 million times since March 2020 to deny the majority of people trying to enter the United States, including those seeking asylum.
Another Trump administration program, the Migration Protection Protocols, also remains in effect after a federal judge ordered the Biden administration to reinstate it in December. The Abbott-backed program, also called “Remain in Mexico,” allows immigration officials to send asylum-seeking migrants back to Mexico while their cases are pending. Since his reinstatement, authorities have returned more than 5,100 migrants to Mexico under this program, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
Isacson said attempts to enter the country traveling inside a tractor-trailer show that migrants are no longer trying to seek asylum because they know they could be turned back under the title 42. Instead, he said, they are turning to more dangerous means of entry. the country.
“The very fact that people are desperate enough to travel on the back of a cargo container tells you the border isn’t open,” Isacson said. “If the border was open, no one would have to do that.”
US Customs and Border Protection reported 557 migrant deaths along the southwest border in the last fiscal year, which ended September 30. Other organizations like the International Organization for Migration, which is part of the United Nations, claimed 650 lives. , its highest number since the organization began counting in 2014.
Gil Kerlikowske, who led US Customs and Border Protection from 2014 to 2017, said the recent death of migrants in the back of a tractor-trailer shows how nearly impossible it is to stop all border crossing attempts by migrants.
“Even with all the electronics and the increased number of Border Patrol agents, it’s very difficult,” Kerlikowske said.
Criminal organizations involved in human trafficking are transnational entities with huge financial resources, which they use to evade immigration authorities, he said. Instead of passing migrants through checkpoints and entry points, he said, they force migrants to bypass checkpoints to avoid authorities or keep them in hiding places inside. land before loading them into other vehicles, including 18-wheelers, to drive them inland. .
Drivers transporting migrants often know little about the people they are driving or who is paying them, Kerlikowske said. But the payment is enough to make them take the risk.
“It’s an incredibly financially rewarding system,” he said. “For a trucker to receive a wrap of thousands and thousands of dollars in cash, that’s a pretty powerful incentive.”
Isacson said authorities should not expect the number of migrants at the border to decrease in the near future. Countries like Nicaragua, Cuba and El Salvador are experiencing political unrest and others are struggling to recover economically from COVID-19. These domestic problems lead to massive migration to the United States.
“We are in this moment of historic migration everywhere,” Isacson said. “You have countries from Colombia to Costa Rica to Mexico that have more migrants who want to settle there.”
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at George Mason University who studies US-Mexico relations, said Abbott’s border security efforts in April were more about “showmanship” and politics than solving the complex problem of immigration. In the months that followed, he touted his security deals with Mexican governors, saying no governor had done more to keep borders secure.
“You can’t deal with just one cause at the border,” Correa-Cabrera said of Abbott’s efforts to inspect every commercial vehicle that crossed the border. “It doesn’t really address the multiple factors that affect immigration.”
On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern at the number of migrant deaths that occurred as people tried to cross the border from Mexico to the United States during the first half of the year, which they say reached 290 with Monday’s deaths. The international organization has warned that migrants are falling prey to smugglers in their efforts to cross borders to flee violence, persecution and human rights abuses.
“What is needed are safer alternatives to these dangerous irregular movements, ensuring rapid access to asylum procedures for those seeking international protection,” said Matthew Reynolds, UNHCR Representative in the United States and In the Caribbean.
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