Migrant gate rush in El Paso highlights friction between federal, Texas border enforcement

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A group of migrants rushed past Texas National Guard troops at the border wall in El Paso Thursday, seeking to surrender to the Border Patrol to apply for asylum.

The migrants made their way across concertina wire and to an opening in the border wall, where they were momentarily forcibly held back by a small group of National Guardsmen.

After rushing past the Guardsmen, migrants made their way to the next border barrier, and turned themselves in to the Border Patrol.

“As of 3 p.m. local time, all migrants from this group have been moved from the site. Additional personnel have been deployed to the scene, and the situation is under control. The U.S. Border Patrol continues to monitor the situation and has increased patrols in the area,” reads a statement from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Border Patrol’s parent agency.

The entire incident took place on U.S. soil, where all foreign nationals are entitled to request asylum from federal officials.

The Texas National Guard is under control of the state government, which is currently locked in legal battles with the Biden administration, seeking to expand local control of immigration enforcement.

“To my knowledge, Texas National Guard have not yet provided details about what occurred leading up to the moments caught on video of migrants — who were already on U.S. soil — rushing part them to get to Border Patrol agents,” Rep. Verónica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents El Paso, posted on X late Thursday.

“I spoke with federal officials on the ground and was told there were no issues when Border Patrol agents — who are trained and prepared for border encounters — took the migrants in the video into custody.”

After the group reached Border Patrol officials, the feds prioritized women and children for transport and began processing the migrants for repatriation.

The incident highlighted a potential flashpoint as National Guardsmen and migrants come into direct contact.

Though federal officials are mandated to apprehend and process anyone crossing the border without prior authorization, Texas officials, including the National Guard, are seeking to forcibly prevent foreign nationals from crossing the border wall and other obstacles, including concertina wire laid out by the state.

It has so far been physically impossible for Texas to even attempt to physically prevent people from setting foot on U.S. soil, as it’s implausible to construct uninterrupted barriers precisely at the demarcation line between the United States and Mexico.

The Texas National Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reasons for the presence of a relatively large group of migrants at that specific location in El Paso Thursday, and for the crowd’s agitation, are not evident in videos of the incident, though the most widely circulated video does show at least one Guardsman forcibly shoving a migrant.

Locations where migrants seek to cross en masse are often determined by advice — or misinformation — given to migrant groups by smugglers, who look for border wall openings or other opportunities to render their services, regardless of the physical or legal risks to migrants or U.S. authorities.

“There are consequences to crossing the border illegally, and CBP continues to enforce United States immigration laws. Individuals and families without a legal basis to remain in the U.S. are subject to removal, and are subject to a minimum five-year bar on reapplying for admission and potential criminal prosecution if they subsequently re-enter without authorization,” reads the CBP statement.

“No one should believe the lies of smugglers; individuals and families without a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed.”

But advocates at the border say another important factor instilling mob mentality in some migrant groups is the combination of fear of conditions in Mexico — in this case, in Ciudad Juárez — and the lack of options to make their U.S. asylum case in a timely manner.

“It’s unfortunate because there is a lot of frustration with people on the move just trying to access safety in the United States. And while the Biden Administration has put this system into place that is quote-unquote, like, ‘working-ish,’ it also leaves a lot of people out and it makes people wait,” said Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.

“Sometimes when you are in abject poverty and trying to just survive and then you have nefarious actors that take advantage of your situation, because it’s evident that you’re ‘other,’ you’re migrant, you’re not Juarense, then you become a target. And organized crime knows that and takes advantage of that.”

For migrants who either can’t get an official appointment to claim asylum at an official port of entry or who don’t have a sponsor in the United States to apply for the Biden administration’s expanded pathways to legal entry, misinformation from organized crime is doubly attractive.

But acting on that misinformation can hurt those migrants’ long-term prospects for asylum if they encounter the Border Patrol, or at the center of a potential political flashpoint if they instead run into Texas authorities.

“I am absolutely without a doubt that there are people who use the Borderlands and our region as their stage for their political theater and if they can agitate something to happen, I think they’re very okay with doing so and even may, at worst, authorize it intentionally, at best, just let things play out, but maybe add a little gasoline to the fire,” said Limón Garza.

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