Texas National Guard, stationed at the El Paso – Cd. Juárez border under Operation Lone Star, work to extend concertina wire barriers westward to the state line with New Mexico on May 12, the day after the expiration of Title 42. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)
This story was updated at 3:24 p.m. on June 1, 2023.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has directed roughly 80 Arkansas National Guard members to the southern U.S. border in Texas to help state immigration enforcement authorities.
The Arkansas soldiers will spend the month of July at the U.S.-Mexico border, assisting the Texas National Guard.
The deployment comes weeks after the expiration of Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that allowed authorities to immediately expel people seeking asylum at the border into Mexico, or to their country of origin, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The U.S. has now returned to its standard immigration policy governed by Title 8. The law offers additional opportunities for asylum seekers, causing worries about crowding at holding facilities amid bureaucratic backlogs, but Title 8 also brings harsher penalties for those who do try to cross the border illegally compared to Title 42.
Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized the Biden administration’s handling of Title 42’s end, albeit mostly for different reasons.
“President Biden’s failure at our southern border puts the entire country at risk. States must now step up where the President has failed to repel illegals, fight the cartels, and stop human and drug trafficking,” Sanders said in a statement. “Arkansans have always been quick to step up when others are in need – this time is no different.”
The deployment makes Arkansas at least the ninth GOP-led state to send support to the border in recent days. They’re going to assist the same Texas-led mission that launched in 2021 in the wake of a human-smuggling attempt that left 53 dead.
That’s in addition to the 1,500 active-duty troops President Joe Biden said would join more than 2,500 Guard members at the border in early May.
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The cost and effectiveness of Texas’ Operation Lone Star has been questioned, but Texas leaders have heralded it as a success, touting “336,000 migrant apprehensions and more than 23,000 criminal arrests” as well as seizures of significant amounts of fentanyl.
The estimated cost of the Arkansas deployment is $1.3 million, according to the governor’s office.
The Arkansas Guard members will assist the Texas National Guard, which will remain the agency in charge, though the Arkansas group will remain under Sanders’ control, according to the governor’s office.
They will work to “combat illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and human trafficking at the border,” per a Sanders news release.
The Arkansas Guard members plan to “enhance the Texas National Guard’s surveillance and reconnaissance abilities and provide increased detection and tracking capabilities to their partners.”
The roughly 80 soldiers will join a group of about 50 Arkansas Guard members already in Texas on federal orders to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“The Arkansas National Guard is uniquely qualified to assist with border control operations,” said Arkansas Guard Adjutant Gen. Jonathan Stubbs. “Our Soldiers and Airmen have been providing these same capabilities to combatant commanders and local law enforcement agencies for years.”
The trip to the border is not unprecedented for Arkansas’ citizen soldiers.
Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered 40 Guardsmen to the southern border in Texas in 2021 for 90 days. That mission was primarily to recover and repair vehicles belonging to Operation Lone Star’s multi-state task force at the border.
The Arkansas Guard also deployed troops between 2006-2008 in support of Operation Jump Start, providing more than 750 soldiers and airmen in support of the Border Patrol.
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