Gov. Spencer Cox announced Friday he would send members of the Utah National Guard to the border, along with several state troopers, to help shore up security there.

This comes shortly after both he and Rep. John Curtis traveled to the border. Cox was in Texas over the weekend, and Curtis was in Arizona for a tour of the southern border Thursday.

Although this was Curtis’ third visit, he said the day was “incredibly enlightening.”

“I’ve learned more on this trip than the others, and have had my eyes open up to exactly what’s going on a whole lot more than I have in the past,” he told the Deseret News by phone.

When asked for more details, he said, “I think among many things is the influence of the cartels. I think it's very, very clear that while we don’t have control of our border, they do.”

Utah to send Texas resources to deal with border crisis

Curtis, a Republican who represents Utah’s 3rd District, introduced the Border Security State Reimbursement Act, which seeks to reimburse states for using their resources to secure the border on Feb. 7.

“Congress has the power of the purse, and we must support these states spending dollars to end this humanitarian crisis. It is enabling fentanyl trafficking that hurts Utahns,” Curtis said in a press release.

His proposal was followed by Cox’s decision to send resources to the Texas border.

“Open borders threaten our national security and if the president and Congress won’t solve the influx of people and drugs, states have to step up,” said Cox. “Right now, Texas needs our help.”

On Feb. 26, Utah will send five soldiers from the state National Guard’s engineer battalion to look over military equipment at the border. This will cost the state about $50,000.

Additionally, Cox plans to deploy one sergeant and four troopers from the Utah Highway Patrol’s Criminal Interdiction Team, which specializes in drug investigations, to the southern state for 30 days. The monthlong deployment will cost $100,000.

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox joins 14 other governors in Texas vowing to protect the border
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, visits with an Arizona law enforcement officer at the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. | Gage Skidmore

Texas has spent $4 billion to secure the border

Curtis told the Deseret News he proposed the legislation after seeing the struggles of Texas, in particular, which has been the hardest hit by the surge in migrant crossings.

“Border states trying to deal with this issue, and other states wanting to send help, realize that this is the federal government’s responsibility,” he said, adding that the states should be paid back for any money they spend.

In the last two years, Texas has spent $4 billion to tackle the crisis while juggling a legal battle with the Biden administration on whether the state can manage the border if it feels like the federal government is not doing its job.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, too, requested the administration to “reimburse the $512,529,333 federal border inaction has cost us” in a letter to Biden in December.

“I regret that the President and Secretary Mayorkas have been negligent in their duty to secure the border and created a situation where states feel it is necessary to act individually,” said Curtis in a press release for the bill.

Rep. John Curtis: Border crisis is ‘the worst possible humanitarian situation’

After he toured the border, Curtis attended a field hearing on Thursday at Sierra Vista to examine the environmental impacts of the border crisis. The Utah representative said, painting a vivid picture:

“Imagine millions of people visiting a state park or a national park in Utah. And every one of them leaving whatever they have, including human waste, with no trash pickup, no bathrooms,” and trampled crops.

Beyond the environmental degradation, which he said he saw everywhere, Curtis admitted the visit validated his concerns about “the worst possible humanitarian situation” at the border.

His visit comes amid a surge in illegal migrant crossings — more than 300,000 — at the southern border in December, marking an all-time monthly high in the three years since this crisis has evolved, according to Customs and Border Protections data.

Should Utah help Texas secure the border? Other Utah politicians weigh in

Curtis said he would support Utah or any other state’s decision to help the border states but clarified that the problem is a federal one and states shouldn’t be burdened to fix it.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, during a Friday afternoon media availability, said it is “pretty amazing” that the state troops are being sent to Texas, adding, “I don’t know if it’s enough or not.”

He also applauded the Utah governor’s decision to send both National Guardsmen and Highway Patrol agents, which, he said, creates a “balance.”

State Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, chimed in, saying the highway patrol troopers are “excited to go.”

During his weekly media availability on Friday, House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, also said he backed the governor’s decision to send the troops.

“It’s a very long border and I am supportive of standing with Texas. I’m supportive of standing with the governor to make sure we secure the border,” said Schultz, who visited the border on Sunday along with Cox. “I’ll tell you, it was not what I expected to see when I went,” Schultz said. “They had that area of the border really secure.”

The speaker revealed that the governor talked with him and Adams before making a final decision on the number of troops. He said 10 troops is “a great number to start with.”

“It shows that we’re there to support. If there’s an additional ask from Gov. Abbott, I’m confident Gov. Cox would consider it,” Schultz said.

Utah Democratic Party chair Diane Lewis released a statement after Cox announced he would be sending troops to the border, saying Cox’s latest moves are part of his “political games.” She said Cox should chase the state’s more pressing issues instead of “posturing in an effort to please Donald Trump.”

Gov. Spencer Cox has backed his Texas counterpart's efforts at the border

On Sunday, 14 Republican governors, including Cox, and House Speaker Schultz, traveled to the southern border to witness the immigration crisis.

“It is really important that we enforce the laws of the United States of America. That’s really what this is about,” Cox told the Deseret News following in Eagle Pass, Texas.

“We need a president who will use the tools at his disposal and a Congress that will help fix some of those tools that need to be fixed to solve this humanitarian crisis that’s happening here.”

Eagle Pass has found itself at the center of the immigration debate. After calling on the federal government to act, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took matters into his own hands by erecting a razor-wire fence between the Rio Grande and Shelby Park in Eagle Pass. The Supreme Court ruled federal agents could cut the razor wire, but Abbott instructed state law enforcement to refuse entry to federal Border Patrol agents.

National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd told the Deseret News, “Shelby Park isn’t a trouble spot,” it’s a “crossing spot” for migrants coming in illegally.

“By Texas taking over Shelby Park, it frees up our resources and now we can start patrolling in more troubled spots where the ‘gotaways’ are taking place,” he said, referring to those who entered the country illegally and have not been encountered by customs officials.

Judd said the migrant crossings had lowered in Shelby Park since Abbott’s move but increased in other areas. But, “what Gov. Abbott did, in fact, dropped the crossings,” he added.

Contributing: Brigham Tomco and Lisa Riley Roche