Texas governor building military 'base camp' near border to deter migrants

Texas Governor Abbott holds a border security press conference, joined by 13 governors from different states, in Eagle Pass, Texas

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Texas is building a military "base camp" in the city of Eagle Pass near the U.S.-Mexico border, part of a broader effort by the state's Republican governor to deter illegal immigration.

The facility - dubbed Forward Operating Base Eagle - will be an 80-acre complex along the banks of the Rio Grande and house up to 1,800 troops, with the ability to expand to 2,300, Governor Greg Abbott said at a press conference.

Record numbers of migrants have crossed illegally into the United States since President Joe Biden took office in 2021, including several million crossing into Texas. Abbott has deployed thousands of state-controlled National Guard troops to deter migrants and built a makeshift border wall in Eagle Pass out of shipping containers and concertina wire.

U.S. immigration enforcement historically has been the responsibility of the federal government and Abbott's moves to secure the border have triggered legal standoffs with Biden's administration.

The new military base will be six miles south of Shelby Park, a city-owned area that the state of Texas has commandeered in an effort to block migrants.

"Because of the magnitude of what we're doing, because of the need to sustain and actually expand our efforts ... it's essential that we build this base camp," Abbott said.

The camp will allow Texas to "amass a large army in a very strategic area" and "increase the speed and flexibility of the Texas National Guard to be able to respond to crossings," Abbott said.

The base camp will feature a 700-person dining facility, on-site movie theaters, workout areas and medical services, officials said. The state also intends to install more barriers north and south of Shelby Park, they said.

Biden, a Democrat, is seeking another four-year term in the Nov. 5 election, where he is likely to face off against Republican former President Donald Trump, an immigration hardliner.

Republicans fault Biden for record numbers of migrants trying to cross illegally and say he should have kept Trump's restrictive policies. Biden says he is creating a more humane and orderly system and that Republicans have refused to fund border security for political reasons.

A new Texas law is set to take effect on March 5 that allows Texas state authorities to arrest and deport people suspected of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, testing the legal limits of the state's authority.

The U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups have sued to stop the law from going into effect.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken, Deepa Babington and Diane Craft)