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Home | Tag Archives: border security

Tag Archives: border security

Federal Government Tells Border Prosecutors to Adopt “Zero-Tolerance” Policy on Immigration

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered federal prosecutors on the southwest border to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against anyone who enters or attempts to enter the country illegally, a mandate he said “supersedes” any prior directives.

“To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Sessions said in a statement. “To the Department’s prosecutors, I urge you: promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens.”

The directive instructs all federal prosecutors on the southwest border to prosecute all Department of Homeland Security referrals for alleged violations of federal immigration illegal-entry laws. 

In a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors on the southwest border, Sessions said the goal wasn’t merely developing more immigration cases, but instead an end to the “illegality in [the] immigration system.” He added that if the new policy requires more resources, the offices should identify and request those to the Department of Justice.

The mandate comes the same week President Donald Trump has assailed Democrats for supporting what he said are “catch and release” policies where individuals apprehended by the Border Patrol are released while they await a court date. (The Washington Post later reported that “catch and release” actually flourished under the George W. Bush administration.)

It’s unclear what the mandate will do to the current immigration-court case backlog, which was at more than 684,000 as of February, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. That figure includes more than 105,000 cases pending in Texas courts, higher than any state but California.

The move is the latest in a busy week for the administration, which has also seen Trump sign a proclamation ordering the deployment of National Guard troops to the border until construction of his promised wall on the southwest border is complete.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Trump Says He’ll Send Military to Guard U.S.-Mexico Border, Threatens Foreign Aid to Honduras

President Trump on Tuesday signaled plans to escalate a crackdown on illegal immigration, announcing that the U.S. military will be sent to guard the U.S.-Mexico border and threatening foreign aid to Honduras.

For the third straight day, Trump seized on coverage of a “caravan” of 1,000 migrants, primarily from Honduras, to call for tougher immigration policies and warn of what he called “weak” border security.

But the prospect sending military personnel to the southern border, as well as cutting off foreign aid, added a new dimension to Trump’s immigration strategy that so far had centered on threats to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement and pressuring Congress to send him funding for a border wall.

“We are going to be guarding our border with our military. That’s a big step,” Trump said Tuesday during a meeting with the leaders of three Baltic nations. “We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing, and by the way, never showing up for court.”

Later at a news conference with these leaders, Trump said he would soon meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss having the U.S. military deployed to the border with Mexico.

“I think it is something we have to do,” Trump said.

Deploying troops to the border is not unprecedented. The Obama administration sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the southern border in 2010 to assist Border Patrol and immigration officials amid rising concerns about drug trafficking.

In 2014, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would dispatch as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to the southern border as the country faced an influx of migrant children and families from Central America. Perry is now Trump’s energy secretary.

Trump floated the threat about foreign aid to Honduras in a tweet early Tuesday morning as he continued to complain about the “caravan” moving through Mexico.

“The caravan doesn’t irritate me, the caravan makes me very sad that this could happen to the United States,” Trump told reporters during his meeting with the Baltic leaders.

The “caravan” — an annual event that is meant to draw attention to the refugee crisis in Central America — has spurred new calls from Trump for an immigration crackdown, particularly funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall that has eluded him. Conservative media outlets have has focused on the caravan in recent days.

“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our “Weak Laws” Border, had better be stopped before it gets there,” Trump tweeted shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday. “Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!”

The Mexican government took steps late Monday to break up the caravan, registering the migrants and saying that some would be asked to leave the country while others would receive humanitarian assistance. Mexico’s Interior Ministry said Monday that “under no circumstances does the government of Mexico promote irregular migration.”

Honduras received about $127.5 million in aid from the United States in fiscal 2016, according to data from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Congress is in a two-week recess.

He referred to the caravan in tweets Monday night, accusing Democrats of allowing “open borders, drugs and crime” while deriding U.S. immigration laws as an “Obama joke.”

“Honduras, Mexico and many other countries that the U.S. is very generous to, sends many of their people to our country through our WEAK IMMIGRATION POLICIES. Caravans are heading here. Must pass tough laws and build the WALL. Democrats allow open borders, drugs and crime!”

Meanwhile, White House officials are preparing new proposals that they say would close “loopholes” in U.S. immigration laws. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security is pushing for the end of the “catch and release” practice, which allows undocumented immigrants who have been apprehended to be released while they await their hearings.

Trump’s new immigration threats were made in tweets early Tuesday that included another defense of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the largest network of local television stations in the country. Sinclair has recently faced a backlash after its news anchors were ordered to read a uniform script decrying “biased and false news” and criticizing other journalists for using their platforms to “push their own personal bias.”

“The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast,” Trump tweeted. “The ‘Fakers’ at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!”

Trump leveled another attack at CNN in a separate tweet that misspelled the name of the cable network’s head, Jeff Zucker, and charged that its journalists had to abide by an anti-Trump test.

CNN immediately pushed back: “Once again, false. The personal political beliefs of CNN’s employees are of no interest to us. Their pursuit of the truth is our only concern. Also, Jeff’s last name is spelled Z-U-C-K-E-R. Those are the facts. #FactsFirst.”

And in his fourth tweet of the morning, the president touted his ratings in recent polling from Rasmussen Reports, whose figures tend to favor Republicans, and noted that his numbers were “higher than ‘Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: SEUNG MIN KIM, THE WASHINGTON POST

How Donald Trump’s Border Wall Fared in the $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill he Signed

After flirting with the prospect of vetoing an omnibus spending bill because it fell short of funding for his proposed border wall, President Donald Trump on Friday eventually gave the go-ahead to the $1.3 trillion measure just hours before a possible government shutdown.

Though far short of the billions initially sought for the president’s “big, beautiful” wall on the country’s southern border, Trump’s signature on the bill means that some work will commence soon on one of his best-known campaign promises.

The money allotted for a barrier on the state’s southern border, more than $1 billion total, includes funding for construction of a barrier in Hidalgo and Starr counties, according to the McAllen Monitor.

During a press briefing Friday afternoon, Trump characterized the funding as a down payment on the project.

“We have a lot money coming to the border, and it will be coming over a period of time,” he said. “We funded the initial down payment of $1.6 billion. We’re going to be starting work – literally – on Monday on not only some new wall … but also fixing existing walls.”

The bill will also fund levee walls in the Rio Grande Valley to the tune of $445 million, according to Washington-based environmental group Earthjustice, and $196 million for bollard fencing in the same area. More than $400 million will go toward repairing or replacing the existing border fence that was constructed after the 2006 Secure Fence Act. Several miles of fence already exists along the Texas-Mexico border, including in Hidalgo, Cameron, Hudspeth and El Paso counties.

But the omnibus bill signed Friday also includes language that blocks construction of a barrier in the Rio Grande Valley’s Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, which U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, called a hard-fought victory.

“Keeping the border wall out of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge was a top priority and the barring of border wall funds at the refuge will ensure that Texans and Texas wildlife can enjoy this habitat for years to come,” he said in a statement.

No DACA solution

The funding bill also leaves out a permanent solution for Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants whose future status in this country is uncertain after Trump eliminated an Obama-era program that granted them protection from deportation. The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program affords certain undocumented immigrants a two-year work permit and protection from deportation.

In his news conference Friday, Trump didn’t mention that his administration nixed the program, which included 1240,000 Texans, last year. He instead called out Democrats for what he said was their failure to move forward on the issue.

“DACA recipients have been treated extremely badly by the Democrats. We wanted to include DACA, we wanted to have them in this bill,” he said. “The Democrats would not do it.”

Two separate federal courts have ruled that the federal government must continue accepting renewals, though new applications can’t be submitted. But U.S. House Democrats said Dreamers shouldn’t have to rely on two temporary court orders to feel confident they won’t be deported once their current status expires.

“By not including a permanent fix for Dreamers in the omnibus, the President and Republicans have prolonged this self-inflicted crisis and have left Dreamers in limbo and at the mercy of a temporary court injunction,” U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-New Mexico, said in a statement. “We must find a permanent solution to protect hundreds of thousands of young people who contribute billions to our nation’s economy from the threat of deportation.”

During the press conference, the president made clear he wasn’t happy with Congress forcing his hand, and asked lawmakers to pass legislation that gives him line-item veto power in the future.

“I say to Congress: I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it,” he said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

With Border Arrests Down, Some Question Trump Administration’s Push for More Agents

The Department of Homeland Security’s announcement this week that its border enforcement strategy had resulted in a sharp decline in illegal crossings has renewed questions as to why the Trump administration wants even more agents on the southwest border.

U.S. Border Patrol agents made 310,531 apprehensions of people trying to cross into the country illegally between ports of entry during the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. And Customs and Border Protection officers recorded 216,370 “inadmissible” cases, which are defined as a person who tries to enter the country at a port of entry but is rejected, or a person seeking humanitarian protection under current laws.

Combined, the numbers represent a 24 percent drop from 2016, according to year-end statistics.

That has Democrats and immigrant rights groups asking whether or not President Trump’s order to hire thousands of more agents should be reconsidered.

“These numbers show that Border Patrol agents are stopping, on average, one or two people per month along the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, a research and human rights watchdog organization. “Where’s the urgent need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on further expanding this agency?”

Through 2016, the Border Patrol had about 19,830 agents working for the agency across the country, including about 17,000 on the southern border, according to federal statistics. Both figures represent the smallest  amounts for the agency since the 2008 fiscal year, when there were about 17,500 and 15,440 respectively.

Just weeks after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order calling on DHS to bolster its ranks by 15,000 agents and spread out the new hires between Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As of May, not one of the Border Patrol sectors in Texas had staffing levels up to par with what its headquarters authorized, according to a Government Accountability Report. The Rio Grande Valley had the most agents, with 3,143. But that was short of the 3,201 recommended authorized positions. The El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, had 2,193 agents while 2,415 were recommended. And the Laredo and Del Rio sectors had 1,584 and 1,398 agents, which were also short of the sector recommendations of 1,852 and 1,642 agents, respectively.

But a July assessment by DHS’s Office of the Inspector General said CBP and ICE could not justify the need for the additional agents.

“Neither CBP nor ICE could provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the additional 15,000 agents and officers they were directed to hire,” the reports states. “CBP officials explained they had been working for 3 to 4 years already, but are still 3 to 4 more years away from implementing a process to obtain and analyze accurate operational needs and deployment data.”

On Tuesday however, the Border Patrol’s top brass said the agency was moving forward with the president’s request despite 2017’s apparent success.

“We had some challenges with the infrastructure here at CBP, we weren’t prepared to hire as many of the [positions lost to attrition] that we had going into the administration,” Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello told reporters. “We’ve now been handed another mandate to hire 5,000 more agents and we need to stabilize the workforce in the office of field operations.”

The federal government’s success comes as the state of Texas has recently allotted another $800 million for state-based border enforcement, despite Trump’s promise to make border security a federal priority.

The Texas Legislature approved an initial massive boost in border-security spending by the same amount in 2015. Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican colleagues said then it was necessary for the state to act because the Obama administration was abdicating its responsibility to secure the border. They cited a recent surge of undocumented women and children from Central America as proof.

They opted to maintain that record funding level in May, months before DHS’s report came out. Lawmakers said during the 2017 legislative session that they couldn’t predict how the Trump White House would approach border security, which they said justified another $800 million in spending.

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Tuesday’s report from DHS means that taxpayers should demand that state lawmakers be more transparent with how the monies are being spent.

Blanco has for years accused the Texas Department of Public Safety of being less than forthcoming about how the agency, which receives the bulk of the state monies tied to border security, is using that funding. But he said he doubted the state would roll back its spending even when lawmakers return to Austin for their next scheduled legislative session in 2019.

“I think there’s a rush to spend money,” he said. “I think it does well during elections. As a border lawmaker who lives literally, a few feet from the border wall and who has been questioning what we’re doing with the money, I think we need to put some metrics and some numbers in [place] in order to be smart about our state dollars and not rush to conclusions.”

Other Democrats have added that DHS’ near-record enforcement should prompt federal lawmakers to rethink efforts to appropriate billions of  dollars for Trump’s promised border wall.

“The Administration can try to twist these numbers into whatever they please, but the fact remains that after unprecedented investments in border security over the last decade, the border has become harder to cross and fewer people are trying,” U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said in a statement. “Focusing massive, new government resources on a campaign promise would be a foolish and irresponsible exercise.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday that recent achievement’s by DHS reflect a stronger emphasis on interior enforcement and sends a message to would-be illegal crossers that the Trump administration is tough on illegal migration. He told reporters during a conference call the results mean the administration should stay the course, and said legislation he filed earlier this year would address some of the staffing concerns as well as facilitate legitimate trade and commerce at the ports of entry. The Building America’s Trust Act would punish “sanctuary” jurisdictions that don’t enforce federal immigration laws and fund more agents.

But he reiterated that a physical barrier isn’t a reasonable solution along the entire border despite the Trump administration’s support for such a barrier.

“I think it’s like looking through a soda straw. This is a bigger issue  than just physical infrastructure,” he said. “It’s not a complete answer. We need technology, we need personnel and the right combination depends on where you are along the border.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced his office would start accepting sworn complaints against “sanctuary” jurisdictions that prohibit local police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. [Full story]
  • In August, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn unveiled a $15 billion border-security bill. The Building America’s Trust Act would fund parts of a wall or fence, add Border Patrol and ICE agents to current ranks, and punish “sanctuary” jurisdictions. [Full story]

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Days Later, Cause of Border Patrol Agent’s Death Still Unclear

More than two days after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed and another seriously wounded while on patrol in West Texas, exactly what happened to the agents is still unclear.

Agent Rogelio Martinez, 36, died Sunday after sustaining severe head and bodily injuries. His partner, who hasn’t been named, is recovering from his injuries and is in intensive care, according to federal authorities.

During a press briefing in El Paso Tuesday, Emmerson Buie Jr., the FBI’s special agent in charge of the El Paso division, said the agency is investigating the death as the result of an attack on federal officers but left the door open to other possibilities. The FBI is the agency bureau charged with investigating potential assaults on federal officers.

“There are a number of possible scenarios. However, in this instance we are going to pursue the one that is most challenging as it’s presented to us, which is a potential assault,” Buie said.

The incident set off a swarm of speculation Sunday about what might have happened to the agents, with some lawmakers immediately calling for more resources on the border. Gov. Greg Abbott announced an award of $20,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved in what he described as an attack on the agents. And President Donald Trump tweeted that those responsible for Martinez’s death would be held accountable and renewed his call for a border wall on the southern border.

When asked if Abbott’s characterization of the incident as a “murder” and Trump’s as an “attack” was premature, Buie would only reiterate the investigation was ongoing.

“Our purpose in our investigation is to do everything in our power to identify the facts as they are presented,” he said. “Right now, again, we are investigating this matter as a potential assault on a federal officer, we’re trying to gather the facts, and if the facts support that, then we will pursue it legally.”

Buie later added that he has not briefed Trump.

Big Bend Sector Acting Chief Victor Velazquez told reporters that the condition of the other agent hadn’t changed and that he remained in critical but stable condition at a local hospital.

In addition to the state’s $20,000 reward, the FBI is offering $25,000 for any information that leads to “the resolution of the case.” Velazquez added that in addition to the numerous federal and local agencies assisting in the investigation, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has also lent its help by supplying bloodhounds. He said that the Van Horn area and the town of Fort Stockton have been canvassed as part of the investigation.

In a statement sent late Monday, the FBI said the two agents were transported to a hospital after being found injured in a culvert adjacent to I-10 at about 11:20 p.m. Saturday. The incident happened about 12 miles east of Van Horn, which is about 120 miles east of El Paso.

But the FBI stopped short of confirming more details, despite several news reports that cited Border Patrol union officials saying the men were ambushed. The San Antonio Express News reported Sunday that the agents were not fired upon but that the surviving agent has no recollection of what happened.

On Monday, uncertainty over what happened to the agents continued to grow. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told a local radio station he heard “at least preliminarily” that the incident was an “ambush by drug traffickers.” But he also cautioned that details needed to be confirmed. Late Monday, the Associated Press reported that Martinez’s death is also being investigated as the result of a possible accident. The AP stated the area the men were patrolling is commonly used to transport drugs.

The FBI is still asking people with information about what happened to call its 24-hour hotline.

“The FBI is aggressively investigating all leads coming in from the public and through investigative activities,” the agency said in a news release.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • State and national leaders called for more resources to go to border security after a U.S. Border Patrol agent died in the line of duty Sunday. [Full story]
  • In August, hundreds of Texans gathered at a historic mission near the Rio Grande to protest President Trump’s proposed border wall. [Full story]
  • From the Rio Grande Valley to West Texas, Texans who live along the Rio Grande are preparing for the possible border wall — some eagerly, others fearfully. [Full story]

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Cornyn, Senate Republicans Introduce Border Security Legislation

WASHINGTON –U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), John Barrasso (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) Thursday introduced the Building America’s Trust Act, legislation that increases resources at our borders, boosts trade through ports of entry, and strengthens enforcement of existing laws.

“For too long law enforcement on the front lines haven’t had the tools they need to stop the flow of illegal immigration, and this bill will provide both the resources and plan to finally secure the border,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation requires DHS to work together with the communities they serve, and helps boost the flow of commerce through our ports so trade can continue to flourish. I’m grateful for the partnership of my colleagues on this legislation, and I look forward to continuing to work with folks in Texas and Congress to advance this bill.”

“Until our borders are fully secure, the current system will continue to reward people who enter our country illegally over those who follow the law,” said Sen. Barrasso. “This bill will make sure our immigration officers have the tools and resources they need to enforce our laws and secure our borders.”

“The first step in securing our borders and reforming our immigration system is to eliminate the incentives for individuals to enter the country illegally. By closing current loopholes in immigration enforcement, hiring more border security personnel, and deploying additional technology and tactical infrastructure, the Building America’s Trust Act will mitigate threats to our country by helping to secure the border,” said Sen. Johnson.

“Our government’s prolonged failure to secure the border has had severe consequences, including creating a humanitarian crisis and contributing to the rise of dangerous narcoterrorist organizations that have exacerbated our nation’s heroin and opioid epidemic,” said Senator Tillis. “The Building America’s Trust Act makes the investment we need in personnel, technology and infrastructure to secure our borders and ports of entry and reduce threats to our national security.”

The Building America’s Trust Act has been endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Coalition, Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition, Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, and National Sheriffs’ Association.

A summary of the legislation can be viewed here: Building America’s Trust Act

 

UT/TT Poll: Immigration, Border Security Still Top Concerns for Texas Voters

Immigration and border security continue to top Texas voters’ lists of most important problems, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

About one-third of the voters surveyed listed one of those issues as their top concern, leaving issues like political corruption/leadership, education and health care in the dust.

And a long list of issues from property rights to the environment, transportation to taxes, barely registered.

“Only 6 percent say unemployment or jobs are top of mind,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

He added that kind of rating is often good for the powers that be.

“People are coming to the idea that the Texas economy is good and the national economy is getting better. That, I think is good for the party in power, he said.

Some other responses, however, show “a taste for leadership and reform,” Shaw said.

uttt poll 1

Voters’ views of the biggest issues facing the country were somewhat different. More than a quarter listed either political corruption/leadership or national security/terrorism as the most important problem facing the United States, followed by the economy, immigration and health care.

Voters’ relative comfort with the economy shows up in their views of how things are going nationally, for the state and for their families. In all three cases, more voters see improvement over the past year than see things getting worse. More than half said their own economic situation is about the same as it was a year ago. But 42 percent think the national economy is better, and 34 percent think the state economy has improved.

That said, 54 percent of Texas voters said the country is headed off on the wrong track, while 34 percent think things are headed in the right direction. They’re happier with the direction of the state: 43 percent said Texas is on the right track, and 40 percent said it’s on the wrong track.

uttt poll 2

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 2 to June 11 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Earlier: Texans on President Trump and the Russia inquiries. Coming next week: Texans’ views on issues.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Most voters in the country’s biggest red state are wary of President Donald Trump — but Republican voters remain strongly supportive of him, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. [link]
  • We’ve published several investigations into what happens when border watchdogs turn criminal — from smuggling drugs and immigrants to getting mixed up with Mexican cartels. Revisit our Bordering on Insecurity project. [link]

Video – Cornyn: Funding Bill Beefs Up Border Security, Defense

WASHINGTON  –  Tuesday on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed the bipartisan legislation to fund the government, which includes additional funding for border security and defense, and the importance of free trade agreements to Texas.  Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below:

“Over the weekend, an agreement was finally reached on a funding bill to keep the U.S. government open and to provide much-needed long-term funding to our federal agencies.”

‘This agreed bill consists of the 11 remaining appropriation bills, with additional funding set aside for our military, disaster relief, and border security. I, for one, have been encouraged to hear folks from both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats alike, make clear we actually agree on more than we disagree on, particularly when it comes to securing our border.”

“I have been glad to read press reports and hear the Minority Leader, Senator Schumer, among others, talk about how providing more resources to secure the border is necessary to keep us safe.”

“Last month during the state work period, I had the chance to speak to hundreds of my constituents all across the state, ten cities in all. Part of that time was spent visiting the folks who live and work along the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“It goes without saying that free trade has been a cornerstone of the economy in Texas, adding billions to our economy annually and bolstering our relationship with our partner to the south. In other words, free trade agreements, particularly NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, are critically important to many of my state’s leading industries, such as agriculture and energy.”

“As we consider this omnibus appropriation bill and specifically, more resources to enhance security along the border, I think we can all agree that our approach should be twofold. We must devote resources not only to enhance border security but also fix our aging infrastructure at our ports of entry. Fortunately, this bill does exactly that.”

“I’m glad we found a way to fund the government and to actually govern while doing more for our national defense and security, particularly security along the border.”

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

Hurd on the Hill: A Sector by Sector Approach to Border Security

The privilege of representing the 23rd Congressional District of Texas is something I do not take lightly, and I work hard each day to ensure that my votes in Washington reflect the views and best interests of my constituents. I represent more than 800 miles of U.S.-Mexico border, more than any other Member of Congress.

La Frontera forms a unique social and economic connection throughout the district. From El Paso to Del Rio and on to Eagle Pass, each section of the border faces unique geographical, technological and cultural challenges that must be addressed separately.

My stance on the border wall has not changed, because the facts have not changed. There is no question that we must secure our border, but building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to go about doing so. A one-size-fits-all solution won’t address all of the border’s complexities.

While physical barriers are one of many tools and may work well in urban areas, gaining operational control of the entire southern border will require a sector-by-sector approach that adequately empowers the men and women on the ground with technology, resources, and manpower.

I am in favor of investing in technology and personnel, instead of a third century solution. We also must implement an intelligence-led border security approach to combat the 19 criminal organizations currently operating in Mexico. The reality is that these are problems for Mexico as well, and there are a number of units we can be working with to stop these problems before they arrive at our borders.  This will keep people on both sides of the border safer.

I am often asked why I don’t support a border wall, and one of the reasons is because it hasn’t worked in the past. There are already almost 700 miles of fencing along the 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.  Much of it is in need of repairs from human smugglers and cartels repeatedly digging under, climbing over and cutting through it. On one of my trips to the border, I saw a portion of the existing fencing that was used by drug traffickers as a ramp to drive a full-size tractor-trailer into the U.S.

Additionally, many of the areas along the Texas-Mexico border are so remote, that border agents measure response time in hours or days. In these places, a fence is not a deterrent.  These areas need surveillance technology, infrastructure and most importantly, personnel. If there are not agents in place to respond to crossings or technology to monitor activity, a wall will do little to effectively secure our border.

Alternatively, we should be able to detect when someone illegally crosses the border, monitor them with a camera or unmanned aerial vehicle, and keep track of the threat until we are able to deploy our most important resources: the men and women in our border patrol.

There is no question that we must secure our border and enforce our nation’s laws. But the last thing we should do is limit ourselves to only one tool in the toolbox. I hope that we can begin talking about strategies, rather than tactics, and measurable benchmarks. When we measure the effectiveness of border security, we shouldn’t be measuring how many miles of fence or wall we have. We should instead measure whether we see a notable decrease in human trafficking, drug smuggling and illegal crossings.

These are lessons I have learned by proactively listening to the concerns of constituents, local law enforcement, landowners and Border Patrol. Until we get it right, this is the message I will carry to my colleagues in Washington and continue to fight for.

***

A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Bishop Seitz: ‘We will Continue to Walk with Migrants and Refugees’

The Church, like Jesus, cares for people, and in a special way we care for the poor and the marginalized. We will continue to walk with migrants and refugees and raise our voices in their defense.

As we know from our experience serving those who have been crossing in recent years those who are coming are not leaving their homes purely for economic reasons; they are fleeing deadly violence and threats against them and their families.

Although some are fleeing from parts of Mexico, the majority are coming from the Northern Triangle of Central America: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

As displaced refugees according to International law, which the United States helped to write, it is not illegal to enter another country when one is seeking asylum. It would not only be unChristian, it would be unAmerican to deny these refugees an opportunity to prove they qualify for protection.

Regarding the wall the Church in the United States has long held that it would be a much more efficient use of our taxpayer dollars if we would:

1) put in place a comprehensive immigration reform which addresses this country’s need for workers and

2) assist sending countries in their need for assistance to overcome the gang and drug violence that is forcing the departure of so many and creating such desperation.

We would also like to remind our immigrant brothers and sisters that we live in a democratic republic. No one person will have free reign to enforce his decisions. We will support legislative and court actions if the fundamental human rights of anyone is threatened.

To all these actions we will add our prayers that our new President will be open to these Gospel principles and that God will continue to provide for His beloved poor.

Author: Bp. Mark J. Seitz

Lawmakers Draw Battle Lines on Border Security, Sanctuary Cities

On the same day that Texas House Republicans doubled down on border security efforts and announced plans to send an invoice to the federal government, Senate Democrats said they were committed to fighting bills to eliminate sanctuary cities.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they aren’t backing away from recent efforts to secure the southern border despite an incoming president who made beefed-up immigration enforcement a hallmark of his campaign.

And as a final admonishment of President Obama, they said they intended to bill the federal government more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013. The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million), Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million), Texas Health and Human Services ($416.8 million), the Texas Education Agency ($181.1 million) and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission ($671,000), according to House Republicans. Another $723.8 million has been spent by local and state governments related to incarceration, they said.

“We understand the principles of federalism, and while we surely don’t want the federal government meddling in our schools and deciding our environmental policies or setting our health care policies, we sure as heck want them doing their limited duties, which are: enforcing the border, standing up for a strong military and delivering the mail,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Two years ago, Bonnen was the author of House Bill 11, an omnibus border security measure that increased by 250 the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border. The legislation was part of the record $800 million lawmakers appropriated for border security during that legislative session.

Lawmakers learned earlier this week they will have billions of dollars less in state revenue to work with this year as they craft the next biennial budget, even as the Department of Public Safety has said it would ask lawmakers for an additional $1 billion for border security. Bonnen said he hadn’t yet reviewed the request.

Although they said they had high hopes that President-elect Trump would fulfill his promise to secure the border and let Texas off the hook, House Republicans reiterated that lawmakers will need to wait and see what the incoming administration does and how soon it acts on border security before making a decision on future expenditures.

“We’ll have to see, [but] I think the Trump administration has made clear that they intend from day one, starting next Friday, to get to work on this issue,” Bonnen said, citing the day of Trump’s scheduled inauguration.

State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, left the door open to Texas lawmakers approving more funding for state-based border security efforts if necessary.

“Republicans in the Texas House are absolutely committed to continuous border security — be it from the state of Texas and what we’ve been doing all these years or from our federal government,” he said.

Part of Trump’s proposed solution includes building a wall along parts of the southern border. When asked what he would tell a Texas landowner whose property could be seized by the federal government for that effort, Bonnen said: “My response would be whatever we need to do to make our border secure and controlled by the federal government.”

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, a staunch opponent of the state’s recent border security surge, said Wednesday’s news conference by House Republicans was nothing more than a last “political dig at President Obama.” He added that the Department of Public Safety hasn’t demonstrated that its recent efforts have been effective.

“You hear a lot about spending dollars into one agency, in DPS, and we’ve seen no accountability,” Blanco said. “I think it’s just politics as usual, and I think Republicans probably need one last border security bill so they can go back to their districts and [successfully] run for office.”

House Republicans gathered to emphasize their continued focus on border security on the same day that Senate Democrats on the east side of the Capitol maintained they would fight against proposed state-based immigration legislation until the last gavel of the session drops in late May.

State Sens. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, joined with members of the faith-based and immigrant rights communities to denounce a bill from state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, which would eliminate sanctuary cities — the common term for local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws — and withhold state funds from local entities that adopt sanctuary policies. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both pledged to eliminate sanctuary cities in Texas this session.

“We will fight this to the finish — no more and no less. We are not going to be silent in the face of these attacks on our communities,” Rodríguez said. He and others said such bills would lead to discrimination and allow local law enforcement officers to question someone’s immigration status.

Perry’s bill includes language that prohibits local law enforcement from stopping a vehicle or searching a business or dwelling unless the officer is assisting a federal officer or working under an agreement with the federal government that allows the practice.

But Rodríguez said he has concerns that the law could still be interpreted so broadly as to allow more widespread questioning by local police.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Video: Texas Legislature Faces a Shift in Border Security Funding Debate

In 2015, state lawmakers approved $800 million for border security efforts. But the election of Donald Trump as president has some thinking there will be a change in spending plans this session.

This kicks off The Texas Tribune’s “State of Mind” video series looking at community concerns coming to the Capitol.

Authors: JUSTIN DEHN AND ALANA ROCHA – The Texas Tribune

With Trump in D.C., Texas Might Spend Less on Border

If President-Elect Donald Trump delivers on his promise to dramatically beef up security on the U.S.-Mexico border, leading Texas lawmakers say they might quit spending so much state tax money on it.

If President-Elect Donald Trump delivers on his promise to dramatically beef up security on the U.S.-Mexico border, leading Texas lawmakers say they might quit spending so much state tax money on it.

With a tight Texas budget session ahead in 2017, state legislators are already looking for every available dollar. Not having to spend $800 million on border security — the amount allocated in the previous two-year budget — would amount to a huge financial windfall at the state Capitol. Not counting federal funds, the Legislature spent about $114 billion in the last budget.

“We’ve been spending a lot of state resources on issues associated with the border, border security, transnational gangs, human trafficking, so I look forward to maybe holding back on some of that money, actually,” said Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. “There’s all sorts of talk about what an administration that will work with Texas border states can do. It’s kind of a new day.”

No one knows for sure what promises Washington will actually deliver on. Already Trump’s vows to undo the North American Free Trade Agreement, rip up the Iranian nuclear deal and impose term limits on Congress are meeting the reality of financial markets, geopolitics and entrenched government bureaucracy.

With the uncertainty in Washington in mind, Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, author of the border security package in the Texas House of Representatives, said he wants Texas, which straddles two-thirds of the U.S-Mexico border, to keep a robust presence along the international boundary until lawmakers see what concrete steps are taken in a Trump Administration.

“I am not going to make any statements one direction or the other until we have clarity of what the federal plan is and how we can work well with them to continue to cover the border region,” said Bonnen, who is from Angleton. “Until we find out whether they are serious in Washington about finally meeting their responsibility, we have to continue to fill the hole here in Texas.”

Still, Bonnen said Trump’s victory “certainly should change the dynamic of the federal government meeting their responsibility, and I hope they will improve the effort from the federal government’s side on the border.”

“It may not have the comfort and impact us [enough] to pull back in the efforts the state of Texas has made this session, but it certainly should create the opportunity to see the following session,” Bonnen said.

Spokesmen for the top three leaders in state government — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio — offered no immediate comment about the implications a Trump presidency will have on state border security spending.

The Legislature’s 2015 passage of an $800 million border spending package — providing boots on the ground, technological barriers and beefed-up intelligence gathering — became a major talking point in virtually every Texas Republican’s standard stump speech. But Barack Obama was still halfway into his second term and, until Trump’s stunning upset victory this week, Hillary Clinton looked like his most likely successor.

Now the brash-talking Republican will get a chance to make good on his vow to accomplish on the border what state leaders say they’ve been wanting Washington to do for years.

“Logic would say if you finally have an administration that finally recognizes their role, then maybe that $800 million can stay with the Texas taxpayers,” said Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who sits on the Legislature’s joint border security panel. “I think you’re going to see a whole new mindset.”

One item Perry expects to significantly change: plans to build a physical wall on the border. That oft-repeated Trump promise, along with his claim that Mexico would pay for it, ended up being the billionaire businessman’s biggest applause line at his rallies.

But Perry said there are many places on the Texas-Mexico border where that won’t be practical. Though some additional barriers may go up in urban areas long the border, he predicted Washington would investigate the issue and lean more toward technology — and less toward physical structures — to keep people and drugs out.

“Now that he’s kind of gotten over the campaign side of it, I think he’ll take the time to investigate it,” Perry said. “It’s not practical to put up a wall on every part of it.”

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 11, capping off the final piece of a massive effort by lawmakers to bolster the ranks of state police, increase technology and establish intelligence operations units on the Texas-Mexico border.
  • Some undocumented immigrants brought here as kids were granted a sort of legal status by President Barack Obama. They’re in a state of shock and panic now that Donald Trump has won the White House.

Authors:  JAY ROOT AND JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Lawmakers Could face Tough Decision on Border Security Funding

The main architect of the state’s record-setting border security bill said on Tuesday he’s concerned lawmakers will find it hard to keep funding the effort when they reconvene in Austin next year.

In 2015, the Texas Legislature approved $800 million for border security efforts, largely in response to an influx of Central Americans breaching the Texas-Mexico border. The main component was House Bill 11 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, which funded 250 more state Department of Public Safety troopers on the border and flooded the area with cameras and other detection equipment. The measure was meant to stop the agency from rotating officers from the rest of the state in and out of the border area for temporary stints.

During a joint Texas House and Senate Committee hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday, Bonnen raised doubts that lawmakers will have the appetite to again approve hundreds of millions dollars for border security as the budget tightens ahead of the next session. Because of the drop in oil prices, budget writers will have less to work with than they had originally hoped — though how much less is still unknown.

“We’re heading into a budget where we don’t have billions of dollars in surplus,” he said. “I can’t speak for the entire Legislature, but $800 million was a record. And it’s $800 million more than any other state in the entire nation has ever spent in trying to meet the federal government’s job of securing the border.”

The hearing came after the DPS announced this summer that it would ask lawmakers for at least $300 million more to sustain the operation and hire hundreds more officers.

Bonnen argued more than once that the state wouldn’t be in a dilemma if the federal government took border security seriously. But he saittQQttd there was no incentive for Washington to change its tune if Texas kept handling the situation.

Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw told the committee he believes federal agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol have the state’s and country’s best interest in mind. But he agreed that the higher-ups in Washington don’t consider border security a priority.

Though he said he understood lawmakers will have less money at their disposal, he said he wouldn’t hold back when the agency makes its request for additional funds.

“We recognize in terms of transportation, infrastructure, Child Protective Services, there are many needs,” he told reporters after his testimony. “But at the same point and time if asked, in terms of what the DPS needs to be able to augment or continue or sustain [the operation], we’re going to be candid. We’re going to be candid about what the threats are, and we are going to be candid about what resources are needed. And the members will decide.”

Bonnen also said he would like a more definitive answer on when the temporary trooper rotations will stop.

“We need to not harm the effort on the border, but we’ve got to quit [the rotations],” he told the Tribune after McCraw’s testimony. “The Legislature last session put the dollars that we were told [DPS] needed to stop sending local troopers out of our communities across the state to the border. That needs to be done as soon as possible. I think that needs to be done by the first of the year.”

McCraw told the committee that at last count, only 112 troopers were still rotating in and out of the border area, mainly from Dallas and the panhandle, and that 250 new troopers will be trained by the end of the year. But he also said he’s reluctant to give lawmakers a definitive date for when the rotations, which he has called inefficient several times in the past, will end. That’s partly due to how much training the agents need after leaving the academy, he said.

“Until I look at the circumstances, I’d hate to give you an exact date, but we’re going to try and get out of it as soon as possible,” he told Bonnen. “This has been a strain, not only on the agency but a strain on the men and women, and they’ve maintained this tempo for over two years.”

Other lawmakers expressed more patience on the budget and the rotations. State Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, said backing away from or trimming down the state’s border commitment isn’t an option.

“It doesn’t make sense, with the investment that we’ve paid so far, to retreat,” he said. “And we’re not going to retreat. I think we’ll find the money necessary to continue to do the job that we’ve started and see it through.”

Read more of the Tribune’s related coverage:

  • Other parts of Texas will continue to feel a public safety void while the Texas Department of Public Safety diverts resources to the border.
  • The Texas Department of Public Safety is nearing its goal of permanently assigning 250 additional troopers to the state’s border with Mexico.

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

Texas Lawmakers Criticize Border Surge For Moving Crime but Not Stopping It

The $800 million border security operation passed by state lawmakers has helped seal off parts of the state’s southern border. But the surge has also made the rest of the area more of a hotbed for illegal activity, the state’s top law enforcement officer told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The assessment by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw came during a House Homeland Security and Public Safety meeting in Brownsville, where Democrats hammered away at the DPS chief and questioned whether the buildup is successful is if it’s not securing the entire 1,254-mile border.

In 2015, lawmakers approved money to fund 250 more DPS officers on the border and to flood the area with cameras and other detection equipment to help stop illicit activity.

The allocation came in response to an unprecedented surge of illegal immigration in Starr and Hidalgo counties, mainly by unaccompanied children or families from Central America. State lawmakers said the surge was necessary because the migration tied up U.S. Border Patrol agents and made the area less safe.

While those counties have seen less crime, gangs have moved their operations into other parts of the border where the DPS presence isn’t as great.

“So what that two-year operation did was it reduced the traffic of crime and drugs in two counties but it moved it to other counties?” asked state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D- Rio Grande City during the hearing, which was broadcast via livestream.

“Yes, that’s correct. They displaced it elsewhere,” said McCraw who described a frustrating situation where cartels and smugglers play a border game of whack-a-mole with American law enforcement.

It means that nearby counties like Zapata and Webb to the west and Cameron to the east have seen a spike in crime, the director testified, adding that the far West Texas counties of Hudspeth and Brewster are “unsecure.” DPS’ “unsecure” designation means law enforcement has limited or no detection, interdiction or support capabilities.

“At one time, the Rio Grande Valley was the center of gravity for everything,” he said. “For the first time, we’ve seen the Laredo Sector is increasing and may go beyond the Rio Grande Valley in the number of drugs seized.”

Drug seizures were down in Starr and Hidalgo counties by more than 20 percent from 2014, while seizures in Webb and Cameron counties increased by more than 10 and 20 percent, respectively, according to 2015 data from the El Paso Intelligence Center that McCraw presented to lawmakers.

An irritated Guillen said he was skeptical of the operation if it is spreading crime around but not stopping it.

“All we’re doing is we’re moving [crime] from two counties over to the other 12 counties, and that, I don’t think, is what is intended,” he said. “It’s a great effort, but unless you do the whole thing, you are not achieving what you think you’re achieving.”

Wednesday’s hearing came just weeks after the DPS announced it was going to ask lawmakers for an additional $300 million to sustain the operation and deploy hundreds more DPS officers.

State Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, said the DPS’s effort was going to be placed under greater scrutiny as lawmakers decided whether to fund that request when they return to Austin in January.

McCraw conceded the operation didn’t yet have a lasting, border-wide effect.tttqt2

“The next step is going to be Cameron County, and we’ll keep moving to Zapata and Webb and keep moving west,” he said. “It’s working exactly as we expected. We don’t just throw this strategy out based upon anything. This strategy was built on evidence and past experiences.”

Nevarez didn’t doubt the DPS has a strategy, he said, but it’s whether it yields results that matters.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s the most well-crafted plan,” he said. “[But] it’s got to work. And not only does it have to work, it has to work within the certain parameters of what we can afford to spend.”

McCraw did get some support from Republicans on the committee who urged patience with DPS efforts. State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, said a step-by-step approach is the one that makes the most sense.

“I assume your plan is to secure and hold and then target the other areas. I think this is a logical step,” he told McCraw. “It’s the key to success and it shows it can be done, and I think it’s a matter of will.”

Read more on these issues:

  • Other parts of Texas will continue to feel a public safety void while the Texas Department of Public Safety diverts resources to the border.
  • The Texas Department of Public Safety is nearing its goal of permanently assigning 250 additional troopers to the state’s border with Mexico.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

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