After facing fiery backlash from Texas Democrats and civil rights advocates over an "appalling" crowd control exercise that U.S. Border Patrol had planned to hold Tuesday morning near a Hispanic neighborhood of El Paso—the hometown of Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who is running to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz—the federal government postponed the event.
Announced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Monday, the "mobile field force demonstration" had been scheduled to start at 10am local time near the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry, while local voters headed to the polls for the midterm elections.
As the Texas Monthly noted, the location is within half a mile of at least one polling station and next to the Chihuahuita neighborhood, "a cluster of about one hundred or so homes along the U.S.-Mexico border that is almost exclusively Hispanic."
BREAKING: Border Patrol has postponed its "crowd-control exercise" in the Chihuahuita neighborhood of El Paso. We will still pursue our request for information to uncover why this was planned for #ElectionDay in the first place. #TX2018
— Texas Civil Rights Project (@TXCivilRights) November 6, 2018
Although Roger Maier, a spokesman for CBP, had insisted that the event—which was supposed to be open to the press—was part of the Trump administration's ongoing preparations for the arrival of a Central American migrant caravan and that "there is no link to the election date," local critics didn't buy that.
"This administration continues to use immigration policy for political purposes," pointed out Democratic State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, vice-chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House. She charged that the "made-for-media" exercise was "a cynical effort to suppress the Latino vote in a region seeing record turnout."
"It shouldn't have taken outrage from us, congressmen, and the community for them to recognize that this would cause serious problems on #ElectionDay."
—ACLU of Texas
"This is more of a campaign dog-and-pony show coming from the administration that is trying to incite its base," declared U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas). "It's appalling that they would do something like that."
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Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, had called the initial timing and location of the exercise "suspicious."
The Republican administrations of President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Burke added, "have done quite enough to intimidate voters without staging military rehearsals on the day our nation exercises our most important democratic obligation: voting. Instead of practicing to handle nonexistent crowds, the Border Patrol could practice something useful and timely: how to properly interview and process refugee asylum seekers."
While Cruz has embraced Trump's harsh immigration policies, O'Rourke has spoken out against them, including the president's recent decision to send American troops to the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of the caravan's arrival.
Responding to Border Patrol's initial announcement during a campaign rally Monday night, before the exercise was postponed to an unspecified date, O'Rourke said: "No walls, no CBP exercises [are] going to keep us from honoring our laws, our commitments. Why this is happening now, why the president is stirring these issues up at this moment with 24 hours before we decide this election, I'll leave that to you to conclude."