Texas strings concertina wire along New Mexico border to deter migrants

A "Welcome to Texas" sign stands behind concertina wire set up along the Rio Grande, close to the Texas-New Mexico border in El Paso on Tuesday. Texas National Guard troops installed the barrier to deter migrants who cross from Mexico into New Mexico from entering Texas. (Paul Ratje For The Texas Tribune, Paul Ratje For The Texas Tribune)

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EL PASO — The Texas National Guard in recent weeks has deployed miles of concertina wire along the New Mexico-Texas border as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to stem illegal immigration.

Last month, Abbott told an audience in New York City that the state planned to install a barrier along the border between the states because immigrants who crossed from Mexico into New Mexico were walking into El Paso.

“And so not only are we building border barriers between the border of Texas and Mexico, we’re also having now to build border barriers between Texas and New Mexico,” Abbott said at a Sept. 27 event hosted by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank.

The barrier consists of two rows of wire strung between metal poles running through an urban area west of Interstate 10, near Mount Cristo Rey, a local landmark with a statue of Jesus atop a mountain peak.

The Texas Military Department did not respond to a request for comment. Abbott’s office hasn’t said how long the new barrier is; a Tribune reporter drove along it on Tuesday and it appeared to stretch about two miles.

Earlier this year, Abbott ordered National Guard members to be deployed to El Paso as part of the state’s Operation Lone Star — the governor’s border security initiative launched in early 2021 that sent National Guard members and state troopers to the Texas-Mexico border to arrest migrants crossing the border illegally and charge them with misdemeanor for trespassing. National Guard members also installed 18 miles of concertina wire along the Rio Grande in El Paso.

Mount Cristo Rey looms behind the Rio Grande where concertina wire is set up along the river bank, close to the Texas-New Mexico border in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday, October 17, 2023. Texas National Guard troops installed the concertina to prevent migrants who cross in New Mexico from entering Texas.

Mount Cristo Rey looms behind the Rio Grande where concertina wire is set up along the river bank, close to the Texas-New Mexico border in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday. Credit: Paul Ratje for The Texas Tribune

A Texas Trooper is parked near concertina wire set up along the Rio Grande, close to the Texas-New Mexico border in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday, October 17, 2023. Texas National Guard troops installed the concertina to prevent migrants who cross in New Mexico from entering Texas.

A Department of Public Safety Trooper is parked near concertina wire set up along the Rio Grande close to the Texas-New Mexico border in El Paso on Tuesday. Credit: Paul Ratje for The Texas Tribune

First: Mount Cristo Rey looms behind the Rio Grande where concertina wire is set up along the river bank, close to the Texas-New Mexico border in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday. Last: A Department of Public Safety Trooper is parked near concertina wire set up along the Rio Grande close to the Texas-New Mexico border in El Paso on Tuesday. Credit: Paul Ratje for The Texas Tribune

“We are now fortifying the border between Texas and New Mexico to block migrants who are entering New Mexico illegally and then crossing into Texas,” the Texas Military Department told KVIA-TV on Tuesday.

Caroline Sweeney, a spokesperson for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said Abbott should “turn his attention away from a never-ending stream of political stunts and toward working in earnest for the people of the state he was elected to represent.”

New Mexico, she added, “stands ready to assist as requested by federal or local partners to ensure individuals are treated with compassion and respect while maintaining public safety.”

Migrant encounters at the southern border reached a 20-year high of 1.7 million in fiscal year 2021, according to federal immigration data, then rose to 2.4 million encounters last year. Through the first 11 months of the 2023 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the government recorded 2.2 million encounters, half of them at the Texas-Mexico border. Statistics for September have not been released.

Under Operation Lone Star, the state has tried different tactics to try to stop immigrants from crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. Earlier this year in Eagle Pass after the state deployed concertina wire along the riverbank a state trooper claimed that superiors ordered officers to push migrants back into the Rio Grande and deny them water. The state also installed a 1,000-foot floating barrier in the middle of the river.

Abbott has ordered the state to hire contractors to build a border barrier along the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border — continuing an effort started by former President Donald Trump and largely abandoned by President Biden. The state has paid more than $1 billion to contractors to build 40 miles of border barrier.

The state Legislature plans to debate House Bill 6 during the current special session, which would appropriate more state money for a state border barrier.