EAGLE PASS — Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday welcomed the first group of Texas National Guard troops to move into a new 80-acre base being built here as part of the state’s $11 billion border initiative.

The base, located on the southern edge of the city, has a dining hall with chef-served meals, dorms that will give each soldier a room and a pavilion where troops can have picnics or put up a basketball hoop. Three hundred troops — who have been living in hotels and other temporary lodging in the region and commuting up to an hour to the border — moved in Friday morning, marching single file with their backpacks and rifles into the food hall.

Officials estimate the base will help the state save $11.5 million a month in lodging costs. The state has not released the cost of building the base.

“This base camp is a far superior strategy that for one will allow the state to be able to have our troops right on the border itself,” Abbott said, speaking in front of troops, humvees and a helicopter. “But for another, provide the type of housing and standards of living that improve the quality of life for the men and women who are wearing a uniform.”

Thousands of Texas Guard members have been deployed to the border since the state began Operation Lone Star in March 2021. Along with Department of Public Safety troopers, they are tasked with patrolling the border and apprehending asylum-seeking migrants, who are often charged with trespassing on private property.

2022 investigation by the Military Times and the Tribune found that one in five troops reported problems with their pay, shortages of critical equipment and living in cramped trailers. At least four members died by suicide in the first few months after the mission began.

A group advocating for a compassionate approach to border and environmental issues denounced the base’s opening.

In a statement Thursday night, the Eagle Pass Border Coalition pointed to its location next to a sewage treatment plant and a concrete plant that could expose soldiers to health risks. The group also juxtaposed the state’s investment in the base with the lack of state investment in nearby colonias — low-income neighborhoods that don’t have basic infrastructure like running water.

“This is a waste of funds; there is no significant threat,” Eagle Pass native Yocelyn Riojas said in the statement. “Our tax dollars could be used investing in our community.”

Five phases of construction remain to be completed, each one expected to take about 30 days and providing housing for 300 more troops.

The base is the latest in a state buildup in Eagle Pass, which has been the center of a standoff with the federal government after the state began deploying concertina wire along the Rio Grande and seized a public park against the city’s wishes. Thousands of migrants once crossed the border into the city a day, but now only a handful enter, Abbott said.

The state will keep its presence at the border unless “we have a president who’s actually gonna fully enforce” federal immigration laws, Abbott added Friday.

“The people who are in charge of bringing people across the border illegally are the drug cartels. The drug cartels haven’t closed out business, they haven’t gone away,” Abbott said. “We cannot relent in our security of the border.”

First Texas National Guard troops move into new Eagle Pass base” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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