AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Monday, state lawmakers began a second hearing to assess how the state is spending an extra $3 billion through 2023 on border security.
The Texas Senate Committee on Border Security is slated to hear from the governor’s office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, among other state agencies, on Monday and Tuesday.
Last year on March 6, Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, aiming to crack down on the spike in migrants crossing the state’s southern border illegally.
“It’s just a daily onslaught, smugglers drive through private property off the main roads to circumvent our law enforcement. It keeps law enforcement busy in these rural counties, that’s basically all that they have time to manage,” Susan Kibbe, executive director of the South Texas Property Rights Association, said Monday.
That’s part of why the governor has since surged 10,000 Texas National Guardsmen to the border, along with thousands of extra DPS troopers. He’s also granted the troopers the power to arrest migrants for criminal trespassing and granted an extra $4 million to the state’s border prosecution unit.
“The border prosecution unit was initially created to help prosecute border crime, such as drug smuggling, human smuggling … and now you’re helping in the prosecution of migrants who are being charged with trespassing?” State Sen. Juan Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen) asked the state’s prosecution unit Monday.
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“Yes, sir, that’s one of the effects of the OLS initiative,” the agency replied.
DPS has since made roughly 7,200 arrests over the last seven months, but as the Texas Tribune reports, a large number of those arrests have solely been for misdemeanor trespassing.
Doris Meissner with the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., said the arrests do not seem to be helping the influx of migrants crossing the border.
“First of all, there’s a big question about whether the data are accurate. Secondly, the trespassing charges. It’s unclear that they’ve been able to be brought to court or proven in court. And perhaps in addition to that, to the degree that these people are placed into state custody and are serving time in jails longer than what the law calls for,” Meissner said.
Dr. Victor Manjarrez, Jr., now the director at the University of El Paso’s Center for Law and Human Behavior, spent the first two decades of his career working for border patrol.
He said the state needs to look beyond the number of arrests to weigh the success of the operation so far.
“The number of arrests and drug seizures along our southern border — what did it do? Did it shift the flow, did it reduce the flow, did it halt the flow?” Manjarrez explained.
He said the number of DPS arrests also needs context, especially since the flow of migrants crossing illegally has not significantly decreased since the start of the operation.
“When [Border Patrol] announces their numbers, there’ll be a million arrests in six months. So it’d be hard pressed for anyone to make an argument that it dissuaded anyone to cross,” he said.
But Manjarrez said he understands the state’s surging of extra personnel to the border.
“I had the opportunity last week to be in Harlingen and Brownsville. One of the things I did notice was that oftentimes the only law enforcement presence was a DPS officer. There are no border patrol agents in sight,” he explained.
“In the Laredo area, 60% of the Border Patrol that we have right now, 60% of the whole total, are in processing centers. That means they’re not on the river. They’re not on the field. They’re changing diapers, making food for the migrants,” Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) said Monday.
He said border communities are feeling the impact of the migrant surge this year the most, which is why he’s trying to get federal funding to add more resources along the border.
“I was able to put monies to put more judges on the borders. In fact, in Laredo, we’ll have — for the first time — courtrooms and eight immigration judges that can address the 1.6 million cases where judges are behind schedule,” Cuellar explained.
Cuellar does not believe the state’s continued efforts to build the wall will help the current crisis but said surging personnel can be helpful, especially if the state better coordinates with the federal government.
“I think we can improve the coordination a lot more between the state and the federal government. We shouldn’t be going different directions, we ought to be going together to address this issue,” Cuellar said.
Solutions going forward
Doris Meissner said historically, National Guardsmen have been deployed to help along our southern border amid surges in migrant crossings, but not like they are in Texas now.
“When there are surges in the way that we’ve seen in recent years, in earlier years, the Border Patrol has often had assistance from National Guard troops. But it’s been assistance that has been under the direction of the Border Patrol and in roles that are helpful to the Border Patrol. That’s not quite what’s been happening recently in the case of Texas,” Meissner said.
She also noted the state’s continuation of efforts to build a permanent border wall along the entire border would not be cost effective.
“It’s the single most expensive intervention along the border, and one therefore that should be used only when it makes sense strategically and from an infrastructure standpoint with other responses,” she explained.
“With other enforcement techniques, a wall in and of itself, barrier in and of itself, has not proven to be effective. So it really needs to be selectively used, it’s always possible to breach a wall, even the most recently-built wall designs,” Meissner explained.
Ultimately, Monday, state officials shifted the blame to the federal government in charge of overseeing and enforcing immigration law.
“There’s no question about that the federal government certainly has the responsibility. But there have been serious difficulties and is a loss of control of the border processes,” Meissner said.
She explained the Biden administration’s current approach is more long range and will take longer to feel the effects.
“[They’re] recognizing that by the time people get to the border, and what you do simply at the border is not enough in order to have effective border control. You need to be working in the region to prevent. You need to be working with other countries. You need to have an effective asylum decision making system in the United States, and all of those things are underway,” Meissner said.
“There’s a long tradition of federal and state law enforcement working together. So it would not be unusual for states and localities to be working with the federal government. But the federal government needs to be in the leadership and basically making the decisions and laying out the strategy for what’s necessary,” Meissner added.