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Operation To Send National Guardsmen To Texas-Mexico Border Continues

Carson Frame
Texas Public Radio
Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Chief Manuel Padilla

National Guard deployment continues along the Texas-Mexico Border. Gov. Greg Abbott has committed to eventually having 1,400 National Guard troops posted along the border. On Friday, officials on opposite ends of the state explained what Texans can expect next.

In El Paso, Ron Vitiello, the acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said the National Guard will perform operational support functions in West Texas, including monitoring cameras and sensor feeds to assist with overall situational awareness on the border.

“They will provide much needed aerial support,” he said. “And we anticipate they will help with roads and vehicle maintenance among other duties.”

Vitiello also said troops might help with trade and cargo searches at local ports of entry. But plans are still in the works.

Vitiello did not say how many troops will be in the El Paso sector or when they will be sent.

On Thursday, Abbott said the state has deployed 762 Texas National Guard troops to the border, so far.

On Friday, in Edinburg, Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Chief Manuel Padilla described what he called a “chaotic border environment.”

“Chaotic from my definition is when you have operational capacity that is not enough to counter the threat that you’re seeing,” Padilla said.

The Rio Grande Valley Sector is made up of around 3,100 border patrol agents and includes nine stations.

Padilla said there is about 55 miles of border fencing set up in the valley. But “within those 55 miles we have 35 gaps, so I liken it to an unfinished house,” Padilla said.

"You have a fence, but you don't have a gate in that fence. In fiscal year 2017, those 35 gates were funded. So, that is actually a project that has been funded, but construction has yet to start,” he said.

About 460 National Guard troops are expected to arrive at the RGV sector within the next few weeks.

“They're coming in likely with air support for us,” Padilla said. “They're going to be helping us with additional air hours, and that's an eye-in-the-sky that gives us situational awareness.”

That number is expected to increase, however, as the need arises.

“We're looking at tasks that are being done by Border Patrol agents that are required tasks that are critical to the mission,” Padilla said. “Some of those tasks we may be able to do with National Guardsmen and release badges back to the border ... so agents can actually be doing the border security mission instead of doing other things that are important, but not border security,” he said.

Padilla added that 43 percent of marijuana smuggling interdiction happens in the Rio Grande Valley border sector.

“We do not have control," he said. "Let me be very clear on that. We do a great job as an agency, as an interagency partner, but at the end of the day, we still have a lot of traffic.”

Mallory Falk was WWNO's first Education Reporter. Her four-part series on school closures received an Edward R. Murrow award. Prior to joining WWNO, Mallory worked as Communications Director for the youth leadership non-profit Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools. She fell in love with audio storytelling as a Middlebury College Narrative Journalism Fellow and studied radio production at the Transom Story Workshop.
Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame