El Paso, Texas — Major General Win Burkett surveyed the concertina wire and military vehicles neatly arrayed on the US side of the southern border where he is commanding 500 Texas National Guard troops deployed to defend the Texas frontier.
The camouflage-clad soldiers, toting automatic weapons, were deployed Tuesday morning, and spent two hours setting up a formidable half mile long military barricade along a stretch of border fence.
Burkett — a decorated army aviator — said one of his major concerns is any cartel influence taking advantage of the desperate migrants who are amassing at the southern border and attempting to smuggle them in.
“I’m concerned for the safety and welfare of the migrants but the cartels are not,” he told The Post standing on a ridge amid small piles of discarded and torn clothing, make-up, water bottles and even sneakers left behind by migrants who tried to scale the 30 foot border fence next to the Rio Grande.
“They are exploiting this migrant surge so that they can have unimpeded access to the border,” he said. “Our message to the migrants is that this is not safe. There have been drownings every day of people crossing the river at Eagle Pass where the water is deep, and there is a high risk of hypothermia as the temperature drops.”
Burkett also said his troops are also working to help bust drug rings, adding: “Our patrols are involved weekly in assisting Texas Department of Public Safety with the seizure of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.”
The National Guard were sent after migrants overwhelmed El Paso and the mayor declared a State of Emergency, triggering state and federal support. The city has become the busiest border crossing in the nation, with some 53,000 people attempting to cross from Mexico into the US in October alone.
“We will be here for as long as the governor sees our value in helping to deter the migrant surge,” Burkett, 57, said adding there are plans for even more National Guard troops to be deployed in the near future.
“We’ll be increasing our numbers as migrants find other places to cross,” he said. “Migrants attempt to cut the fence at various points along the border.”
Earlier this week, an unidentified pregnant woman went into labor as she attempted to cross the border in the area known as Chihuahuita where Burkett’s National Guard troops are deployed. It is not immediately clear where the woman is from and where she is now.
Although his troops do not have the power to arrest unless they are asked to do so by local law enforcement, Burkett said they are mainly deployed to help with surveillance and as a deterrent. Burkett said he also plans to implement “rolling patrols” in and around El Paso to deter both migrants and smugglers who have lately overwhelmed this border city of more than 678,000 residents.
A commander of the 36th Infantry Division based in Austin since May, Burkett is a decorated serviceman who commanded US forces in Bosnia in 1997 and a multinational military force in Kosovo in 2007, according to his bio.
As Burkett sees it, his soldiers are “augmenting the Border Patrol to slow the surge so that Border Patrol has the means to control the border.”
In addition to Border Patrol, the National Guard troops are working with Texas Department of Public Safety, which combines the Texas Rangers and state troopers, to help with the migrant surge.
A tidal wave of migrants surged across the border ahead of the end of Title 42, a Trump-era policy that restricted border entries, but is seen by migrants as less severe than the Title 8 policy they will be processed under when it ends. Title 42 was set to expire today, but was extended by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts after 19 Republican states made a last minute appeal for its continuation.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration argued to the Supreme Court Title 42 had outlived its usefulness and should be allowed to expire — but also requested delaying its end until after Christmas.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who ordered the National Guard in to protect El Paso, blamed the federal government for not doing more to stem the crisis.
In a letter to President Biden Tuesday, he stressed “the U.S. Constitution dictates that it is your job, Mr. President, to defend the borders of our country, regulate our nation’s immigration, and manage those who seek refuge here.”