Collaborative effort at the border ahead of Title 42 ending

Governor announces aggressive strategy to ‘secure border’ in light of plans to end border COVID restrictions

VAL VERDE COUNTY, Texas – Since Thursday, border cities like Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Laredo and Zapata have played host to soldiers with the Texas Military Department, who are conducting mass migrant response rehearsals.

“Essentially just trying to ensure that practice, ensuring that we are able to respond at a port of entry to a mass migration event,” said Col. Patrick Nolan, chief of staff for Joint Task Force Lonestar with the Texas Military Department (TMD).

The move comes after Gov. Greg Abbott announced “aggressive actions” ahead of the end of the CDC’s decision to lift Title 42 next month.

The order blocks asylum claims and expels migrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The exercises are tied to that in that we do not want to be caught flat-footed in the event that something does occur,” Col. Nolan said.

Currently, 6,500 military personnel are working along a 350-mile portion of the border from Harlingen to Del Rio.

“That’s everything from security to barrier construction to sustainment and also just command and control,” Col. Nolan said.

It’s a collaborative effort between TMD, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“Essentially, they each have responsibility for a port of entry to surge whatever number of vehicles and people are appropriate based on the size of the port of entry. As you know, some are larger than others,” Nolan said.

In cities like Del Rio, the busing of migrants who have been processed and released to Washington, D.C., has already begun.

“Out of the 261 that were released, 24 did get on a bus,” one person stated during a stream of the Val Verde County Commissioners Court meeting.

Migrants have a choice about whether to get on a bus.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) is handling the process of signing up each person to go.

TDEM’s involvement was a key factor in Val Verde County commissioners signing off.

“The buses are a good idea if we’re not the ones helping hold their hand to get them on the bus,” one person stated during a stream of Val Verde County Commissioners Court meeting.

The commissioners are concerned about potential lawsuits from migrants who make it to Washington but do not want to be there.

There’s also lingering fear the “free ride” will draw more people

“It does scare me, though, that now you have people wanting to go that way. Now they know that you can come to Del Rio, and we’re going to get you on a bus. So it’s sort of good and bad,” the person continued over the meeting stream.

One commissioner asked if there was a way to incentivize everyone to get on the buses. At this point, the answer is no.

Those buses are being paid for with taxpayer dollars designated by the state legislature for border security.

Mass migration response rehearsals are expected to continue weekly. For now, a larger exercise is scheduled just before Title 42 ends late next month.

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About the Authors

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.

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