Hundreds of migrants illegally crossing from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, into El Paso each day are running smack into what feels like a war zone: miles of triple-stack concertina wire and armed National Guard troops ordering them to return to Mexico.
They wade in single file across the Rio Grande intent on turning themselves over to Border Patrol to be processed — more than 1,270 a day at this part of the border during September.
But many migrants crossing between points of entry now spend their first steps on U.S. soil confronted by Operation Lone Star, the multibillion-dollar initiative that Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas started two years ago, and bolstered again last month to address the border crisis and prevent drug and human smuggling.
The flow of migrants crossing the Southern border between official ports of entry has roughly doubled since the spring, after a brief dip. In May, Governor Abbott began to ramp up deployments of National Guard soldiers from Texas and other states, as well as state troopers, and a new Texas Tactical Border Force.
Over a period of 10 days in late September and October, The New York Times documented the El Paso border from the Mexico side. The footage offers a rare look at the aggressive tactics by National Guard troops trying to block, apprehend and repel people seeking unlawful entry to the U.S.
Armed troops patrol between lines of concertina wire, engaging in cat-and-mouse pursuits with migrants, and in some cases, arresting them for trespassing.
In the video below, soldiers used their bodies to trap a woman and a child against rolls of concertina wire. She finally darted free with the child in her arms and ran up the concrete embankment past National Guard troops to join other migrants waiting to be processed by Border Patrol.
On that same night, a soldier chased and threatened a young man with his rifle as another soldier pulled him by the shirt back toward Mexico. The man later escaped and leaped over the fence.
Governor Abbott responded to criticism of his border tactics in a statement in July, saying, “No orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally.”
The absence of concertina wire, the governor added, encourages migrants to make potentially life-threatening and illegal crossings.
Individuals and families with infants have become temporarily ensnared in the fence’s teeth. When National Guard soldiers arrived in a truck while people were under the razor wire, one woman, dressed in red, re-emerged on the Mexico side moments later with a bloodied arm.
The Texas National Guard began laying more than 20 miles of concertina wire along the border near El Paso in the spring, and reinforced it in August with two, and in some places three, lines of fencing.
Arguil González, a Venezuelan migrant, told The Times that soldiers had ordered him back across the river three times in the same day. He lacerated his arm trying to reverse through the sharp steel fence with his young son, whose legs were also cut.
The Texas Military Department would not comment on specific strategies or tactics, but confirmed in a statement to The Times on Sept. 27 that the Texas National Guard had rapidly deployed an additional 600 soldiers and equipment, as well as trained members of the state’s Tactical Border Force flown in on C-130J cargo aircraft in response to the new surge in migrants.
Despite the intensified military presence, migrants continue to arrive atop trains to Ciudad Juárez by the hundreds, and at times, thousands. Approximately 50,000 Venezuelans crossed the Southern border illegally in September alone.
The Texas Department of Public Safety opened an investigation into the state military’s tactics at the border, including the use of concertina wire, after a trooper-medic sent an email in July expressing concern after a large group of migrants was pushed back across the Rio Grande to Mexico in extreme heat conditions and not given water. The department did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the case.
In late August, a Texas National Guard soldier in El Paso shot at a man on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande, wounding him in the leg. That incident is still under investigation.