EL PASO — Texas National Guard members stationed themselves and military vehicles on the concrete banks of the Rio Grande on Tuesday and erected concertina wire barriers in an attempt to turn back migrants from the U.S.
Groups of men, women and children, many lightly clothed despite a forcecast calling for below-freezing temperatures this week, made it across the river to the U.S. but were held back by the wire and armed Guard members.
"The service members in El Paso are in the process of erecting concertina barriers to deter and turn back migrants,” the Texas Military Department said in an emailed statement to NBC News.
Guard members, separated from the migrants by the concertina wire, instructed migrants to leave because they were not crossing at a legal entry point.
More than a dozen military vehicles as well as Texas' state police vehicles were seen along the border, and Guard members could be heard telling migrants to go to a port of entry. However, under the law currently in use on the border — Title 42 — migrants can't use the port of entry to apply for asylum.
The administration has been using a pandemic-era law introduced by former President Donald Trump to more quickly expel migrants without giving them the chance to apply for asylum.
A judge ordered the Biden administration to stop using that law by Wednesday and revert to using immigration law. However, on Monday, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts put a temporary hold on the judge’s order in response to a challenge by 19 GOP officials.
Despite the new barrier, migrants stayed put Tuesday. Small groups swelled to about 200 to 300 people by late afternoon.
The release of migrants by Customs and Border Protection in El Paso last week overwhelmed shelters and left many to sleep on the streets as temperatures dropped.
With hundreds arriving daily and a fear that more will follow, El Paso declared an emergency and asked the state and federal government for more help with sheltering and feeding the migrants and getting them to other cities with larger airports and more flights.
The city said that the Texas Guard was being sent to provide humanitarian support and logistical support for processing travel and that Department of Public Safety police would help keep migrants and the communities safe.
At a news conference Monday, Mario D'Agostino, El Paso deputy city manager, spoke of the Guard’s involvement, reminding the community that Guard members had helped with food banks and vaccination clinics during the pandemic.
The installation of the concertina barrier was troubling for U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas.
“I saw it for myself," she said after a visit to the area. "There’s Humvees and ... long guns. I asked Border Patrol if they had requested this kind of support from the Texas National Guard, and they said they had not.”
CORRECTION: (Dec. 21, 2022, 12:16pm E.T.) A previous version of this article misattributed a quote about Texas National Guard’s help to El Paso food banks and vaccination clinics. The comment was made by Mario D’Agostino, deputy city manager for El Paso, not state Sen. Cesar Blanco (who was not at the news conference).