Abbott to Biden: Texas needs a federal emergency declaration and we need it now

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Governor Greg Abbott asked Biden to declare a federal emergency declaration for the state in order to receive more resources for the surge of migrants at the southern border at Del Rio. The emergency declaration will provide help to state and local authorities to handle the crisis. Abbott sent a five-page letter to Biden on Monday relaying the request.

Abbott points out to Biden that since 2014, the State of Texas has invested almost $3.5 billion to secure the Texas-Mexico border and protect public safety. To cope with this year’s surge of migrants, the Texas legislature more than tripled state spending, providing another $3B for border security in the current budget. Since the state disaster declaration in May, the State of Texas has spent over $84M more than has been budgeted. Abbott included a list of state agencies that are providing support to local officials.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS): DPS is enforcing all state criminal laws including for criminal trespassing, smuggling, and human trafficking. In response to the surge of illegal crossings near the International Bridge in Del Rio, DPS has surged hundreds of State Troopers.
 Texas National Guard: assists with fencing construction and enforcement of state laws, including arresting people who have crossed the border illegally. In response to the surge of illegal crossings near the International Bridge in Del Rio, like DPS, the Texas National Guard has surged over a thousand soldiers to the Del Rio Sector alone.
 Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM): TDEM staff, along with activated members of the state’s Emergency Management Council, continue to conduct command and control operations in the State Operations Center (SOC).
 Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ): TDCJ operates the Val Verde expanded booking facility and supports detainee operations.
 Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT): TxDOT continues to construct temporary border barriers.
 Texas Emergency Medical Task Force: (EMTF): The EMTF maintains operational ambulances and generators supporting multiple facilities and an AMBUS and rehab facility to support first responders.

How much more of a burden is Texas expected to handle on its own to protect the southern border? This is Joe Biden’s job. National security is the top responsibility tasked to the president, which includes keeping the U.S. borders secure. This is both a national security problem and a public health problem.

The federal government’s “failure to enforce immigration laws and in particular, its failure to halt illegal crossings on a dam on federal property, which is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government,” is overtaxing the ability of Texas, Del Rio and Val Verde County to respond to a “concentrated surge” of immigrants who illegally crossed on Wednesday, Abbott said in a release and his letter to Biden.

The migrants, many from Haiti, camped near the Del Rio International Bridge and on Saturday, their number reached about 16,000, the Republican governor said in his letter.

“Thousands of families are immobilized in 100-degree heat as their numbers continue to swell as they wait to be processed by the approximately 64 federal agents in the area,” Abbott wrote. “Individuals are camping in squalid conditions and bathing in muddy river water, causing great health concerns.”

Abbott’s letter addresses the situation in Val Verde County where the makeshift camp for illegal migrants has gone up under the International Bridge in Del Rio. Since September 15 when the first large group crossed the Rio Grande River at that spot, the numbers have increased to about 16,000 as of Monday. These numbers include families, babies, and children, who need food, water, and medical supplies. The local community simply doesn’t have the resources to keep up with the demands being placed on it. Del Rio’s population is about 35,000 people and the demands of a sudden surge of 16,000 people so far is just too much for the city to handle. There are not enough medical facilities for the migrants who are ill, who are suffering from heat exhaustion in the 100-degree heat, who are pregnant and giving birth, and those who need medication. The concerns of COVID-19 spreading from the camp to the city’s population are growing.

The Biden administration has begun, slowly, to assist in efforts to stop the flow of migrants crossing the Rio Grande River. Air flights taking Haitians back to Haiti have begun but the number taken so far is very small. It will take weeks to complete the task at this rate. Title 42 should be in full force and they should be turned back instead of being allowed over the border. More help is needed.

Pursuant to 44 C.F.R. § 206.35, this incident is of such magnitude and severity that effective response demands federal assistance to adequately support state and local capabilities, and supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives and protect property, public health, and safety.

As a result of this disaster, the State of Texas is specifically requesting an emergency declaration for Public Assistance Category B (Emergency Protective Measures), DFA and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program statewide.

Governor Abbott is expected to hold a news conference today at the International Bridge in Del Rio.