Migrant encounters at the border are higher than they were before Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star began

For the past year and a half, Gov. Greg Abbott has made border security his priority and the centerpiece of his reelection campaign.

He’s put $4 billion on the line to do so, initiating construction of a border wall and sending thousands of National Guard service members and state police to patrol the border with Mexico for months on end in his highly touted Operation Lone Star.

And over 18 months, he has taken unprecedented measures to curb illegal immigration — arresting and jailing migrants on state criminal charges; spending millions on bus tickets to send them to other cities; and for a few days, nearly shutting down international trade with Mexico to increase inspections of commercial trucks entering into Texas. He has repeatedly blamed President Joe Biden for an increase in migrants and called for the federal government to reinstate former President Donald Trump’s tougher immigration policies.

But despite those efforts, the number of migrants officials encounter at the Texas-Mexico border is higher today than it was before Operation Lone Star began, according to data reported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

READ MORE: Poll: Abbott leads O'Rourke, border top issue for voters

The number of migrant encounters at the Texas-Mexico border has climbed from 109,456 in March 2021, the month the mission began, to 116,976 in August — a slower rate of growth than at other parts of the border but a failure of Abbott’s office’s stated desire to "stop this revolving door and deter others considering entering illegally."

This month, federal authorities said the number of migrant encounters at the entire southwest border exceeded 2 million in August. That’s the first time in history that threshold has been hit. Authorities expect it to rise to about 2.3 million by the end of the fiscal year on Friday.

In his weekly border mission updates, Abbott touts successes: 334,000 migrant apprehensions by state officials; 19,000 criminal arrests; seizures of 5,500 weapons and 336 million doses of lethal fentanyl. "All of which would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and our country thanks to President Biden’s open border policies," his spokesperson Renae Eze said.

Yet the continued pace of migrants at the state’s southern border calls into question the effectiveness of a state policy intended to stem border crossings that is costing the state the equivalent of the average annual college tuition and fees at a public university for 395,000 students.

Abbott and his supporters say the mission is working, and that border crossings would be even higher if not for his measures.

"As border communities have been overrun and overwhelmed by this ongoing crisis, Texas has sent significant resources to help our local partners, including financial and law enforcement support and busing migrants to sanctuary cities Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago to provide relief," Eze said in a statement responding to a request for comment for this story. "Until President Biden and Congress step up and do their jobs to secure the border, Texas will continue utilizing every strategy to protect Texans and Americans."

She did not address the increase in migrant encounters at the Texas border this year despite Operation Lone Star’s efforts.

Abbott is the latest leader to encounter the challenges of governing the border. While it’s easy to cite rising numbers and accuse opponents of not doing enough, many of the factors driving migration — economics, natural disasters and the pandemic — are out of the leaders’ control.

While Abbott has pointed to Biden as the reason for the increase in migrants at the border, court rulings have largely left Trump’s most significant immigration restrictions intact until recently. Biden tried to do away with Title 42, a pandemic-era public health order that immigration authorities used to turn away migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the border. A federal judge blocked that move in May, and the program has remained in place.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration scored a recent win this summer when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that it could do away with the Trump-era "remain in Mexico" policy, which required some asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for a decision on their applications for protection in the U.S. Biden officially lifted the policy in August.

Critics say Abbott needs to explain why the migrant encounters reported by federal authorities at the state’s border have remained high 18 months into Operation Lone Star.

This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune. Read More: https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/28/greg-abbott-border-migrants/