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Tennessee deploys National Guard to Texas as political fight over border increases

From The Tennessean: Tennessee will deploy two waves of National Guard troops to the border through the spring as Republican governors across the

From The Tennessean: Tennessee will deploy two waves of National Guard troops to the border through the spring as Republican governors across the country continue to back Texas in its ongoing feud with federal authorities over immigration enforcement.


Gov. Bill Lee and first lady Maria Lee met with deploying National Guard members in Millington, Tennessee on Saturday, weeks after the governor traveled to the border and pledged to support Texas Gov. Greg Abbott with an escalating and increasingly politicized border crisis.


“Gov. Abbott has made the decision to utilize Texas’ resources to secure that border and to keep that traffic from coming into his state,” Lee said. “But it’s an overwhelming task, and he asked governors to join him because each one of us recognizes that.”


The Texas National Guard earlier this year seized control of a popular border crossing in Eagle Pass, and Texas began blocking federal immigration officials and Border Patrol agents from the area. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled the state could not block federal access, upholding longstanding precedent that the federal government, not states, control border enforcement.


Tennessee National Guard Maj. Gen. Warner Ross would not comment specifically on where Tennessee’s contingent will be sent. Tennessee deployed 125 soldiers last year to McAllen, Texas.


The new deployment consists of about 50 soldiers, authorities said Saturday, deployed through March, with another wave replacing them later in the spring.

The governor and first lady traveled to West Tennessee on Saturday to meet with the deploying guard members ahead of their deployment.


Lee said “most of America has come to realize” the ongoing border issues are “a true crisis for our country.” The governor on Saturday cited concerns with human and drug trafficking in unauthorized border crossings.


“You realize what is happening and what has been happening there has to change,” Lee told the guard members. “You are part of that change.”


Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, center, and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, right, stand with fellow governors as they listen to Texas Gov Greg Abbott, seated left, during a news conference along the Rio Grande to discuss Operation Lone Star and border concerns, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

A recent Gallup poll shows Americans believe immigration is the top issue facing the U.S., the first time the issue has topped the list since 2018. The border is clearly emerging as a defining topic of the 2024 presidential elections, as President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump each made a stop at the Texas border on Thursday.

Republicans have accused Biden of reversing Trump-era policies that stemmed the flow of border crossings, though USA Today reports the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border more than doubled during the Trump administration by 2019 after a brief dip in 2017. Migration did fall significantly in 2020, largely driven by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to widespread travel restrictions across the world.

Border encounters have risen during the Biden administration as pandemic restrictions were rescinded. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 1.7 million migrant encounters at the Southwest border in fiscal 2021, 2.4 million in fiscal 2022 and an additional 2.5 million in fiscal 2023.


Meanwhile, Republicans last month torpedoed a bipartisan U.S. Senate border security package, which included more conservative border policies initially backed by both Democrats and the GOP, after Trump whipped opposition to the bill.


In Texas, Abbott has characterized the border issue as an “invasion” in legal filings in the effort to assert state sovereignty over federal immigration authority. Texas has argued it has a right to supersede federal law to act on immigration as the state sees fit. A federal judge this week ruled otherwise, temporarily blocking a Texas law to expand state immigration enforcement powers. U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra wrote immigration surges do not constitute an “invasion,” nor is Texas “engaging in war.”


Critics say Abbott and a number of other Republican leaders have weaponized immigration rhetoric to whip up political fear. In Tennessee, Democrats have argued ongoing anti-immigration rhetoric has emboldened dangerously racist views. Anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric was front and center at a recent white nationalist march in downtown Nashville, where masked marchers unfurled Nazi flags and chanted “deport every Mexican” and, “Save the white man.”


Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville speaks during a press conference held in response to a Nazi group known as “Blood Tribe” that marched through downtown Nashville over the weekend at Legislative Plaza in Nashville , Tenn., Monday, Feb. 19, 2024.

Lee, who frequently cites civility as one of his guiding values, has not yet echoed Abbott’s “invasion” rhetoric, though Tennessee openly backs Texas in its sovereignty struggle with federal immigration authorities.


Last week, for instance, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti joined with 21 other attorneys general in sending a letter to multiple federal agencies demanding answers on a report about 85,000 missing unaccompanied minors and joined with other Republican states in again backing Texas in its legal fight.

The governor on Saturday acknowledged there is a “very toxic political environment in this country” but argued the border issue should rise above politics.


“Unfortunately, a lot of issues in this country that are pragmatic, real issues, become very political,” Lee said.


Lee again noted his concerns about human and drug trafficking, in addition to deaths of migrants attempting to cross the border.


“It’s a humanitarian crisis and heartbreaking across all the spectrums,” Lee said.


The governor said unauthorized border crossings bring “dangers and threats” to the country, while the U.S. should “make way” for migrants who have an “appropriate reason” to be here.


“I understand fully that America is a welcoming land with opportunity for those who are escaping persecution, who have a real need,” Lee said. “We do have a right way in this country. We have a legal process for folks to enter into America. We have always been a country that has immigration policy for those who follow it.”