On U.S. 83, the highway that hugs the southern stretch of the Texas-Mexico border, law enforcement is everywhere.
Even on a national holiday this week, the green-and-white trucks of U.S. Customs and Border Protection circled tirelessly around the empty streets of Rio Grande City, a hotspot for illegal border crossings. Texas state troopers pulled over vehicles, and a Border Patrol helicopter hovered above, keeping watch over the Rio Grande.
Less visible are hundreds of Texas National Guard troops who arrived last summer and are under new orders from Gov. Greg Abbott to remain indefinitely – probably at least through next year. But with migration numbers falling and the guard moving to remote outposts, local authorities and residents are questioning the troops’ continued presence here.
Previously scheduled to leave in March, guard members who typically respond to short-term disasters like hurricanes are instead digging in for one of the longest domestic deployments in the U.S. That is despite dwindling apprehensions and an even steeper drop in unaccompanied children arriving from Central America.
It was the arrival of those children in overwhelming numbers that prompted former Gov. Rick Perry to activate the guard in the first place. Abbott says the extended mission is necessary until Texas hires more state troopers.