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Tennessee is sending its National Guard to Texas as political fighting over the border intensifies

Tennessee will send two waves of National Guard troops to the border this spring, while Republican governors across the country continue to back Texas in its ongoing feud with federal authorities over immigration enforcement.

Gov. Bill Lee and first lady Maria Lee met with deployed National Guard members in Millington, Tennessee, on Saturday, weeks after the governor traveled to the border and pledged to support the Texas governor. Greg Abbott with an escalating and increasingly politicized border crisis.

“Gov. Abbott has made the decision to use Texas resources to secure that border and prevent that traffic from entering his state,” Lee said. “But it is an overwhelming task, and he asked governors to join him because each of us recognizes that.”

The Texas National Guard took control of a popular border crossing in Eagle Pass earlier this year, and Texas began blocking federal immigration officials and Border Patrol agents from the area. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that the state could not block federal access, upholding the long-standing precedent that the federal government, not the states, would control border enforcement.

Gov. Bill Lee met with Tennessee National Guard troops in Millington, Tenn., on March 2, ahead of their deployment to a border operation in Texas.

Gov. Bill Lee met with Tennessee National Guard troops in Millington, Tenn., on March 2, ahead of their deployment to a border operation in Texas.

Maj. Gen. Warner Ross of the Tennessee National Guard would not comment specifically on where the Tennessee contingent will be sent. Tennessee sent 125 soldiers to McAllen, Texas, last year.

The new deployment consists of about 50 soldiers, authorities said Saturday, who will be deployed through March, before being replaced by a new wave later in the spring.

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The governor and first lady traveled to West Tennessee on Saturday to meet with Guard members ahead of their deployment.

Lee said that “most of America has come to realize that the ongoing border problems are “a real crisis for our country.” The governor raised concerns Saturday about human and drug trafficking at unauthorized border crossings.

“You realize what is happening and what happened there has to change,” Lee told the guards. “You are part of that change.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, center, and Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, right, stand with fellow governors as they listen to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, seated left, during a news conference along the Rio Grande to discuss Operation Lone Star and border issues.  Sunday, February 4, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas.Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, center, and Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, right, stand with fellow governors as they listen to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, seated left, during a news conference along the Rio Grande to discuss Operation Lone Star and border issues.  Sunday, February 4, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, center, and Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, right, stand with fellow governors as they listen to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, seated left, during a news conference along the Rio Grande to discuss Operation Lone Star and border issues. Sunday, February 4, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas.

A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans believe immigration is the most important issue facing the US, the first time since 2018 that the topic has topped the list. The border is clearly emerging as a defining issue of the 2024 presidential election, as President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump each made stops at the Texas border on Thursday.

Border visits: The clashing visits of Joe Biden and Donald Trump are putting the border battle further in the spotlight

Republicans have accused Biden of reversing Trump-era policies that had stemmed the flow of border crossings, though USA Today reports that the number of migrants arriving at the US border more than doubled during the Trump administration in 2019, after a short dip in 2017. Migration did decline. significantly in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic that led to widespread travel restrictions around the world.

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Border conflicts have increased during the Biden administration as pandemic restrictions were lifted. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 1.7 million migrant encounters at the southwest border in fiscal year 2021, 2.4 million in fiscal year 2022 and another 2.5 million in fiscal year 2023.

Meanwhile, Republicans last month torpedoed a bipartisan U.S. Senate border security package that included a more conservative border policy initially supported by both Democrats and the Republican Party, after Trump swept away opposition to the bill.

In Texas, Abbott has characterized the border issue as an “invasion” in legal filings in an effort to assert state sovereignty over federal immigration authority. Texas has argued that it has the right to override federal law and crack down on immigration as the state sees fit. A federal judge ruled differently this week, temporarily blocking a Texas law to expand the state’s enforcement powers. U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra wrote that waves of immigration do not constitute an “invasion,” nor is Texas “employed at war.”

Critics say Abbott and some other Republican leaders have weaponized immigration rhetoric to stoke political fear. In Tennessee, Democrats have argued that persistent anti-immigration rhetoric has encouraged dangerously racist views. Anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric took center stage at a recent white nationalist march in downtown Nashville, where masked protesters unfurled Nazi flags and chanted “deport every Mexican” and “Save the white man.”

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Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville speaks during a press conference held in response to a Nazi group known as “Blood Tribe” marching through downtown Nashville this weekend at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 .Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville speaks during a press conference held in response to a Nazi group known as “Blood Tribe” marching through downtown Nashville this weekend at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 .

Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville speaks during a press conference held in response to a Nazi group known as “Blood Tribe” marching through downtown Nashville this weekend at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 .

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Lee, who often cites civility as one of his guiding values, has not yet echoed Abbott’s “invasion” rhetoric nor has he criticized the Biden administration as sharply as some of his fellow GOP governors, although Tennessee has openly criticized Texas supports in its sovereignty battle with federal immigration authorities.

Last week, for example, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti joined 21 other attorneys general in sending a letter to multiple federal agencies demanding answers to a report on 85,000 missing unaccompanied minors, joining other Republican states to once again support Texas in its legal battle.

The governor acknowledged Saturday that there is a “very toxic political climate in this country,” but argued that the border issue must rise above politics.

“Unfortunately, a lot of issues in this country that are pragmatic, real issues become very political,” Lee said.

Lee again raised concerns about human and drug trafficking, in addition to deaths among migrants trying to cross the border.

“It is a humanitarian crisis and heartbreaking on all spectrums,” Lee said.

The governor said unauthorized border crossings pose “dangers and threats” to the country, while the US must “make way” for migrants who have a “proper reason” to be here.

“I fully understand that America is a welcoming country with opportunity for those escaping persecution, who have a real need,” Lee said. “We have the right path in this country. We have a legal process for people to enter America. We have always been a country that has an immigration policy for those who follow it.”

This article originally appeared in Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee sends National Guard to Texas amid political border fight

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