Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned of grave border security challenges and touted the successes of his administration’s border efforts during a speech at the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition meeting on Monday morning in Downtown El Paso.

Noting the upcoming lifting of Title 42 on May 23, a provision of public health law in place since March 2020 to rapidly expel migrants at the border, Abbott said sheriffs should expect to see “cataclysmic” events in border regions.

The visit followed Abbott’s April 6 announcement of the expansion of Operation Lone Star, the state’s multi-billion dollar border security initiative, to include using charter buses to send migrants to Washington D.C., and implementing “enhanced safety inspections” of commercial vehicles crossing into Texas from Mexico.

Abbott cited victories of Operation Lone Star to the crowd of cowboy hat clad sheriffs, highlighting fentanyl seizures and more than 11,000 arrests of “cartel members, drug traffickers, murderers, child rapists and MS-13 gang members” who had evaded Border Patrol.

“Who knows the havoc they could have (wreaked) on communities and the ways they could have endangered the lives of people in the state of Texas,” Abbott said of Operation Lone Star’s impact.

Members of the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition applaud as Governor Greg Abbott concludes his remarks at a conference on Monday morning in El Paso. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

A recent investigation by the Marshall Project, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune found that although Operation Lone Star is ostensibly intended to target migrant and drug smugglers, it has disproportionately led to the arrests of migrants for trespassing offenses. The investigation cited a lack of clear metrics for measuring the initiative’s successes, and found that Abbott often uses statewide fentanyl seizure statistics in describing the program’s effectiveness, rather than seizures directly attributable to Operation Lone Star.

State military department leaders are seeking an additional $531 million in state funding to continue operations of the controversial mission.

Increased Texas Department of Public Safety inspections of commercial vehicles due to Abbott’s April 6 order led to dramatic increases in border crossing wait times in El Paso over the weekend. Reuters reported that the number of commercial trucks entering El Paso at the Zaragoza-Ysleta International Bridge dropped from an average 2,000 per day to 1,000 on Friday, with some truck drivers waiting in line overnight at the port of entry.

As of Monday morning, the wait time for commercial vehicles at the Zaragoza-Ysleta bridge and the Bridge of the Americas was three hours, according to Customs and Border Protection’s border wait times website.

Abbott did not comment on the commercial vehicle inspections during his speech.

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego were present at Monday’s meeting to welcome the governor to El Paso.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser addresses the meeting of the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition on Monday morning in El Paso. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Leeser and Samaniego both emphasized the city’s safety during their remarks to the group, with Samaniego describing El Paso as a “humanitarian community.” Samaniego acknowledged that local officials anticipate challenges with next month’s lifting of Title 42, but said cross-border cooperation is a key way for the community to prepare. He described the relationship El Paso officials have with their Ciudad Juárez counterparts as “tremendous.”

As Abbott wrapped up his address, he emphasized that Texas is available to assist border communities in coping with the anticipated higher number of migrants. Although he commended El Paso for beginning advance preparations for the lifting of Title 42, he cautioned, “whatever is anticipated, whatever calculations are made, whatever response strategies are put in place, it probably is not going to be enough.”

René Kladzyk reports on wide-ranging issues impacting the lives of El Pasoans. She also performs music as Ziemba. René can be reached at rkladzyk@elpasomatters.org. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.