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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Texas builds base near border where state is quarreling with feds

Police officers guard a barricade leading to Shelby Park on Feb. 4 in Eagle Pass, Texas.  (Michael Gonzalez)
By Ben Brasch Washington Post

Flanked by armed National Guard members, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Friday plans to build a base housing up to 1,800 troops in Eagle Pass, close to the riverfront area where state leaders have been at loggerheads with the Biden administration over immigration enforcement.

The base, planned to house an initial 300 troops by April, is the latest effort by Abbott to curb border crossings into Texas under a mission dubbed Operation Lone Star that he began less than two months after President Biden was inaugurated. Plans for the base come as the country gears up for a presidential election and reckons with the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have illegally crossed the southern border in recent months.

The base “will amass a large army at a very strategic area. It will increase the speed and flexibility of the Texas National Guard to be able to respond to crossings,” Abbott said Friday during a news conference in Eagle Pass. “This will organize substantial forces also to expand the razor-wire barriers that are going up.”

The 80-acre “forward operating base” – a phrase the U.S. military used to label many of its camps dotting Iraq and Afghanistan – will sit near the Rio Grande. It will also include command posts, weapons storage rooms, vehicle maintenance bays and a helicopter pad, according to Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer, the head of the Texas Military Department.

Forward Operating Base Eagle, as Abbott called it, will reduce the pricey hotel stays and hourlong commutes some troops have been making each way to fulfill their border duties, the governor said.

“Before now, the Texas National Guard had been scattered across this entire region in cramped quarters, away from fellow soldiers, and sometimes traveling long distances to do their job,” Abbott said in a statement. “This base camp is going to dramatically improve conditions for our soldiers.”

A contract, awarded Feb. 9 to the New Braunfels, Texas, company Team Housing Solutions, lists a completion date of Sept. 7 and a price of $131 million for the construction of the base, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported.

The base will be about 6 miles south of Shelby Park – the battleground between Texas and the federal government that has been the site of thousands of unauthorized border crossings from Mexico.

Abbott seized control of Shelby Park, located in Eagle Pass along the banks of the Rio Grande, in January. He blocked Border Patrol agents from the park, which they have long used as a staging point. Abbott argued the federal government wasn’t doing enough to stop the illegal crossings, but his critics said the move was inhumane and a dangerous overreach of state power.

In January, the Biden administration sued Texas over its immigration policies. Later that month, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Abbott let the Border Patrol remove the razor-wire barriers that prevented agents from reaching the river to help migrants in distress. Instead, Abbott installed more razor wire – a move encouraged by 25 Republican governors who signed a letter of support.

Abbott said Friday that the new base allows National Guard members to more efficiently install that razor wire.

“Our goal is to make sure we expand the effectiveness of that razor wire to more areas along this border,” he said.

Abbott has also received support from the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee in his dispute with the Biden administration.

Former president Donald Trump wrote on social media Jan. 25 that Texas “must be given full support to repel the invasion.”

The situation has gotten so toxic that extremism monitors warn that they see signs of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in Abbott’s defiance of federal orders, as militia-style group members visit Eagle Pass.

Texas’s first border czar, Mike Banks, who oversees state border security, said Friday that the facility coalesces troops so they can better do the job that the federal government refuses to do.

“It is absolutely absurd that we have to fight the federal government daily,” he said.

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Arelis R. Hernández and Hannah Allam contributed to this report.