The American Civil Liberties Union is warning of voter intimidation in Texas on Election Day as the Border Patrol prepares a “crowd control exercise” near a Hispanic neighborhood in Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Beto O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso.
The agency announced just hours before the planned exercise that it would conduct a “mobile field force demonstration” near the historic Chihuahuita neighborhood, close to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Our preparations are ongoing. There is no link to the election date,” Roger Maier, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, told the Washington Post.
The ACLU in Texas said the timing and location were highly “suspicious.”
“The location, next to a totally Hispanic neighborhood, is suspicious. The timing of this — Election Day — is suspicious. This administration, and by extension the [Gov. Greg] Abbott administration, 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,” ACLU Texas executive director Terri Burke told the Post.
Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, who oversees all elections in the state, rejected the concerns and said after speaking with the agency that he is “convinced the exercises aren’t getting in the way of Texans going to the polls.”
The Washington Post reported that CBP had been conducting several exercises near the border in anticipation of the migrant caravan heading through Central America in recent days.
O'Rourke, who trails incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in nearly every poll, questioned the timing of the exercise.
“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,” O'Rourke told the Post.
The move comes as civil rights groups around the country raise concerns over the Trump administration's decision to send Justice Department election monitors to 35 voting locations in 19 states on Election Day. The move comes after the president repeatedly warned of “illegal voting” while offering no evidence of any illegal voting anywhere in the country.
"We condemn the Justice Department's announcement regarding the deployment of federal observers," Kristen Clarke, who heads the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. "In stark contrast to how these observers have been deployed in the past, Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not have his eyes set on voter suppression and last-minute intimidation but is instead exploiting this moment to push a false narrative about voter fraud.
"At every turn, this Justice Department has failed to take action to enforce the Voting Rights Act and protect the interests of minority voters. And the latest announcement from DOJ makes clear that this is still the case," Clarke added. "This is a Justice Department that has abandoned its mission and lost its way."
The states where DOJ election monitors will be sent include Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas, which all feature close Senate or gubernatorial races. Trump announced the move on Twitter, threatening that anyone caught illegally voting will be “subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law.”
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law responded on Twitter by accusing the president of a blatant attempt at voter suppression.
"This is a shameful, disgraceful, and naked voter suppression attempt intended on breaking people's spirit and instilling fear in the 11th hour," the group wrote. "Black people and people of color have seen these schemes throughout history. We rejected them then and we reject them now."
The ACLU responded to Trump's tweet by urging voters to report any intimidation efforts to their hotline.
"Being struck by lightning is more common than voter impersonation fraud," the group tweeted. "Voter intimidation is also incredibly rare, but one way to recognize it is the threat of law enforcement at the polls. If you witness voter intimidation, call 866-OUR-VOTE."