Utah has sent about 230 troops to U.S.-Mexico border since 2018

Migrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico on Oct. 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. A recent decline in arrests for illegal crossings on the U.S. border with Mexico may prove only temporary. The drop in January reflects how numbers ebb and flow, and the reason usually goes beyond any single factor.
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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called out the state Democratic Party for flip-flopping on the issue of immigration and the southern border crisis.

At his monthly news conference on Thursday, the Republican governor pushed back on the minority party’s opinion that Utah shouldn’t divert resources toward a federal issue.

“We’ve sent about 230 troops to the border since 2018,” Cox said.

“I didn’t hear complaints from them when we did it. So, I’m not sure why they’re complaining about it now,” he said, adding, that Texas asked for help.

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Will Utah Gov. Spencer Cox deploy more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border?

His remarks come a week after he announced Utah is sending five soldiers from the state National Guard’s engineer battalion to look over military equipment at the border on Feb. 26.

He is also deploying one sergeant and four troopers from the Utah Highway Patrol’s Criminal Interdiction Team, which specializes in drug investigations, to the southern state for 30 days. This will cost the state about $150,000, as the Deseret News previously reported.

Other states like LouisianaWest Virginia and Indiana have also made plans to send troops to the Texas-Mexico border.

Cox visited Eagle Pass, Texas, alongside 14 other Republican governors and Utah Speaker of the House Mike Schultz on Feb. 4 and witnessed the roiling immigration crisis. During this trip, Cox reaffirmed Utah’s support for Texas.

“I want to be very clear on this. The federal government has absolutely dropped the ball and the federal government is not performing their constitutional duties,” he said.

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“More and more Americans, including a super majority of Democrats, believe that the border is a problem right now. That’s a vast change over the last couple of years. It is overwhelming all of our systems (and) it is completely unsustainable.”

When asked if plans to send more troops to Texas, Cox said if Texas requests for more, he will work with state lawmakers, including Schultz, R-Hooper, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. His decision would also depend on the change in the number of border crossings, he added.

Cox said Texas’ decision to block crossing points on the border — despite pushback from the Supreme Court and the Biden administration — has decreased the number of encounters. But now, cartels are rerouting migrants to Arizona and California.

As The Associated Press reported, in Texas’ Del Rio area, the number of encounters dropped by half in January from 249,735 in December.

How does the border crisis affect Utah?

When asked if he is concerned that the impact of the border crisis will reach Utah, Cox said it has, and attested that every state has become a border state and “every single major city in America right now is facing the crisis.”

He said these migrants are utilizing resources set aside for the state’s homeless and refugee population. The demographic of these migrant groups has changed: Previously, he said, it was “young male Mexican workers.” But now, people from different countries lining up to enter the U.S., including those who are on the terror watch list.

Cox said in the past, Utah has used resources to help asylum-seekers from war-torn countries like Ukraine and Afghanistan but he added that’s not the case at the border, where the cartel controls the flow of migrant crossings, delivering them to the border patrol agents and giving them a script to read for seeking asylum in hand. An estimated 80% of these asylum-seekers don’t qualify and should be made to leave, Cox said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall pushed back on remarks Cox made after his trip to Eagle Pass, where he claimed the illegal border crossings led to a spike in drug-related crime in the city.

“Our data doesn’t show any (drug crime) increase related to immigration changes at the border,” Mendenhall said at a news conference on Feb. 5, according to Axios. “That is something that we have worked very hard, and across federal and other public safety partnerships to try to affect.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Cox acknowledged he shares “a great relationship” with Mendenhall, and that she’s right in one regard that U.S. citizens are the ones who typically work as mules and smuggle drugs.

“Where I think she’s wrong is that the cartels are deeply involved in both drug smuggling and smuggling illegal immigrants to the border and across the border,” he added. “So, to say that there is no nexus between what’s happening at the border and what’s happening in Utah is just patently false.”

Is Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas to blame for the border crisis? Gov. Cox doesn’t think so

Earlier this week, House Republicans moved to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for disregarding federal immigration laws. But Cox said he doesn’t “think it’s going to make a difference at all” and it’s Biden who needs to step up.

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Cox said Biden has the power to cut down illegal migrant crossings overnight. He also mentioned he wanted to see Congress reform asylum laws.

“The asylum standard is pretty high. You actually have to prove that you are in danger, your family is in danger. ... And that process is backed up,” Cox said, noting the inefficiencies that come with a limited number of judges and appointments, as well as a policy that allows the asylum seeker to report to court a year later.

But, “the standard though for getting into the system at the border is very low. There’s literally a script that they read, that says I fear I’m in danger ... and (the border patrol agents) have to let them into the system,” the GOP governor explained.

He said regardless of compassion, the U.S. cannot handle 3.2 million encounters with undocumented migrants, as Border Patrol personnel did last year. “We know from the data that about 80% of them likely don’t qualify for asylum, but it’s going to take a year to year and a half for half of them to go through the asylum process,” Cox added.

He called for turning away migrants who don’t meet the eligibility requirements straight from the border ports.

“They’re not interested in asylum. They’re interested in the American dream,” Cox said. “This is where Congress also needs to (work on) legal immigration.”

Contributing: Brigham Tomco