Texas National Guard lines section of Rio Grande in El Paso with shipping containers
The Texas National Guard brought a Christmas Eve delivery to El Paso: 10 shipping containers deposited on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande near Downtown.
The shipping containers are the latest addition to border fortifications in El Paso since the Texas National Guard arrived early last week. Guard members in Humvees now line the border in Downtown El Paso and have staged concertina wire by the fence that already separates the U.S. and Mexico. According to the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the shipping containers are part of Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star and are meant to "prevent illegal migrant crossings."
However, on Dec. 24, migrants could be seen easily circumventing the shipping containers in their attempts to enter the United States. The federal agency tasked with the regulation of the Rio Grande and U.S.-Mexico boundary treaties, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), could not confirm whether Texas had received permits to install the shipping containers on federal land in the river floodplain.
In Juárez, environmentalists expressed concern that the "political trick" would impact the already beleaguered Rio Grande ecosystem. They pointed out parallels to the shipping containers placed along the border in Arizona's Coronado National Forest this fall.
"This political trick to stop the passage of migrants puts the already fragile biodiversity that inhabits the Río Bravo at risk," the environmental group Sierra de Juárez posted on Instagram, using the Mexican name for the river. "We hope that the federal government of the United States will order the removal of these containers in order to alleviate the effects that may be caused in wildlife."
Federal government orders shipping containers in Arizona removed
In November, outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey began placing shipping containers in an area of the Huachuca Mountains known to be a habitat for endangered jaguars and ocelots. The federal government has since ordered Arizona to remove the shipping containers. But Texas appears to have mimicked the strategy.
The emplacement of container barriers by TDEM will help prevent illegal migrant crossings as Texas National Guard continues to secure border areas between official points of entry to prevent, deter and interdict illegal immigration and transnational criminal activity. pic.twitter.com/H4oblEsjKp
— Texas Military Dept. (@TXMilitary) December 24, 2022
According to a tweet from the Texas Division of Emergency Management on Dec. 24, the shipping containers were placed to prevent unauthorized border crossings in between ports of entry. Division Chief of Media and Communications Seth Christensen elaborated in an emailed statement on Dec. 28:
"At the direction of Governor Abbott, almost a dozen containers have been initially placed, along with over a mile of fencing, in locations in the El Paso sector as determined by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard, and they will remain as long as necessary to impede the flow of illegal immigrants into Texas communities."
Christensen did not respond to questions about whether the IBWC or other federal agencies had cleared the installation. In an emailed statement, IBWC Foreign Affairs Officer Sally Spener said communication with law enforcement agencies is "ongoing" did not specify whether the agency issued permits for Texas to install the shipping containers.
More:Wildlife advocates say Ducey's new border barrier threatens fragile Arizona habitat
"We have been in communication with the various law enforcement agencies with a presence at the border regarding permitting requirements for any infrastructure that may have been placed in or proposed for placement in the USIBWC right of way," Spener said.
The shipping containers also appear to have caught El Paso city officials by surprise. In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said the city has no permitting authority along the river.
“We had no optics on that,” he said. “I don’t know who sent them out there.”
Since Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021, thousands of National Guard soldiers and state troopers have been sent to the border.
Texas counties joining Operation Lone Star could access law enforcement funding, but El Paso officials distanced themselves from the program. However, with this month's emergency declaration by the city, the operation has come to the Sun City. According to the governor’s office, 400 soldiers have been sent to El Paso.
The El Paso Times has reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 office to comment on authorizations for the shipping containers. The agency had not provided a statement by the time of publication.
More:El Pasoans troubled by National Guard tactics, fate of Title 42 caught in litigation
Staff writer Martha Pskowski may be reached at email@example.com and @psskow on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Texas lines Rio Grande with shipping containers near Downtown El Paso