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El Paso officials say they need humanitarian assistance not the National Guard

Children watch as members of the Texas National Guard stop a group of asylum-seeking migrants, that the children are a part of, from crossing the border into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Children watch as members of the Texas National Guard stop a group of asylum-seeking migrants, that the children are a part of, from crossing the border into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.

Updated December 22, 2022 at 2:22 PM ET

EL PASO, Texas — On a cold morning along the banks of the Rio Grande, young men in military camouflage carry rifles and stand beside Humvees.

They're members of the Texas National Guard. A line of razor wire that they erected separates them from Mexico.

A man and a woman from Peru approach and break down in tears when they see the guard members. They say they want to come into the country and seek asylum.

"We didn't come to commit crimes. We didn't come to do anything. We just came to turn ourselves in," they say in Spanish.

The 400 Texas National Guard troops that arrived in El Paso this week don't have the authority to take these migrants - or others like them - into custody. That's the U.S. Border Patrol's job, but guard leaders say they have a mission.

"In our rules in the use of force, we can serve as a deterrent in telling them to stop, in telling them to turn around and giving them an optic that they can't pass," says Major General Ronald Win Burkett, II of the National Guard.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott deployed the guards to El Paso to create what he called a "blockade" for people crossing into the U.S.

Three unaccompanied minor asylum-seeking migrant children are escorted through the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Three unaccompanied minor asylum-seeking migrant children are escorted through the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
Asylum-seeking migrants wait at the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Asylum-seeking migrants wait at the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.

Local and state authorities at odds

"We'll be here as long as the governor thinks we're adding value, we are serving as a deterrent," says Burkett, but the city and county leaders are clear — the National Guard is not helping.

"We specifically told them we did not want them to send troops or militarize the border any further," says David Stout, a County Commissioner and chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, which includes elected officials and business leaders. "We told them we need humanitarian assistance and not this political game they're playing."

Members of the Texas National Guard stop asylum-seeking migrants attempting to cross the border into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Members of the Texas National Guard stop asylum-seeking migrants attempting to cross the border into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.

Stout, a Democrat, says the Republican governor has not provided help with this crisis and many local officials agree. What they really need, they say, is help with things like shelter for migrants in winter weather, especially as temperatures are expected to drop below freezing soon.

Meanwhile, the National Guard's efforts may not be deterring migrants, as was the case with the couple from Peru. Border Patrol agents just directed them to another spot downriver, where they joined a line of migrants also seeing asylum.

An asylum-seeking migrant from Colombia nurses her child as she waits at the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
An asylum-seeking migrant from Colombia nurses her child as she waits at the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
Asylum-seeking migrants wait at the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Asylum-seeking migrants wait at the border wall to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.

Copyright 2022 KTEP

Angela Kocherga