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Texas' border lawmakers say they're in the dark on troop deployment

Troops at the National Guard armory in Weslaco hear from Gov. Greg Abbott while preparing for deployment at the Texas-Mexico border on April 12, 2018. Photo: Bob Daemmrich, The Texas Tribune

Ask a border lawmaker from Texas how much President Donald Trump’s decision to send the military to the U.S.-Mexico border will cost taxpayers, and the response could be a shrug of the shoulders. Same thing goes if they’re asked how long the deployment will last or if it will disrupt cross-border trade and travel.

A day after federal officials announced that active-duty military will descend on the border to thwart the caravan of Central American asylum-seekers slowly approaching the United States, border lawmakers said they’ve been left in the dark about any further details surrounding the estimated 5,200-troop deployment.

“It’s ridiculous, we’re not getting any actual information,” said a staff member with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela’s office. Vela represents the Brownsville area of the Rio Grande Valley and has been an outspoken critic of the deployment and other immigration-enforcement initiatives.

So far, Vela’s office said it doesn't have more information than what officials told reporters on Monday, when Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, the chief of U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan announced the deployment.

The closest thing lawmakers get to a daily update is a teleconference with Department of Homeland Security officials. But some border lawmakers say they were only made aware of those updates from other members’ offices.

“Not once have I received that email from the administration, I’ve received that email from other people that are going to be on the call from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus,” a chief of staff to a border Democrat told The Texas Tribune. “[That office] gets it from who knows who? How are we supposed to know what’s going on?”

And when they do get those updates, the staffer said, they leave a lot of questions unanswered. O'Shaughnessy said Monday that 5,200 troops would be deployed by the end of the week and that there were 800 on their way to Texas, but an email Tuesday from Homeland Security to lawmakers said the recent activity didn’t warrant a call to inform lawmakers of the latest developments.

“As there are no substantial updates from yesterday’s call, there will not be a migrant caravan update call today,” a Customs and Border Protection official wrote in the email. A call Tuesday afternoon to Homeland Security's legislative affairs office wasn’t returned.

A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson in El Paso on Monday declined to provide additional details, and an agency spokesperson in Laredo on Tuesday provided a link to an archived video of Monday’s news conference from O'Shaughnessy and McAleenan, along with a statement saying the agency had “nothing further to offer at this time beyond the video links and the following written statement regarding current preparations.”

The office of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, did not respond to a request for comment, and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, told the Tribune it didn't have any more information than what's already been reported in the media.

There are few overt signs of activity on the border so far. Chain-link gates were installed on an international bridge that connects the South Texas town of Progreso with Nuevo Progreso in Mexico in anticipation of the migrant caravan.

B&P; Bridge Company, which owns the crossing, put up the gates Saturday after being approached by Customs and Border Protection, said Julie Guerra-Ramirez, the company’s bridge director.

“By no means was it a mandate,” she said. “It’s all in preparation in case the caravan decides to come this way. All we’re doing is taking precautions.”

The chain-link gates — which have remained open since they were installed — are located on the bridge’s pedestrian walkways.

The Progreso bridge is one of only two vehicle crossings on the Rio Grande owned by a private company rather than by a government entity. The other one, near Rio Grande City, has had a 10-foot-high chain-link gate that closes access every night since the bridge first opened in the 1960s, said its owner, Sam Vale.

Because the Progreso bridge is open 24 hours a day, Guerra-Ramirez said it may be a likely destination for the caravan.

“It’s kind of like the bridge preparing for a hurricane,” she said, equating the gates to stocking up on water or flashlights. “In the event that the caravan were to lead this way, we would be semi-ready for them not to enter illegally into our country.”

It is in fact legal for migrants to present themselves at ports of entry and ask for asylum, though they must be processed there by federal officials rather than storming through, as a second caravan from Guatemala did when entering Mexico. Recently, U.S. officers have been turning migrants away before they can reach U.S. territory, saying that ports of entry are full.

Vale, the owner of the Starr-Camargo Bridge Company, said that CBP officers are the only ones with the legal authority to block the bridge, including cutting off car and foot traffic with a gate.

Guerra-Ramirez said her company paid for the gates on the Progreso bridge, though she declined to say how much it cost them. Sandra Cavazos, a spokesperson for CBP’s office on the bridge, declined to comment about the installation of the gate.

Read related Tribune coverage

"Texas' border lawmakers say they're in the dark on troop deployment" was first published at by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Read the original story HERE.

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