On Tuesday, U.S. Representatives Martha McSally (AZ-02) and Will Hurd (TX-23), Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, sent an oversight letter asking for specific details of the Administration’s request for $999 million to plan, design, and construct the first installment of a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, the letter lays out a series of detailed questions to DHS in order to provide the lawmakers with further clarity regarding the President’s recent supplemental appropriations request, which was sent to Congress on March 16, 2017.
“As Representatives of the communities that make up our southern border, we recognize the need for robust border security and infrastructure to ensure public safety and increase cross border commerce,” the lawmakers write. “We also have an obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and as such have a number of questions.”
“While we have both publicly stated in the past that we believe physical barriers to be one of many tools required to gain operational control of the border,” continued the lawmakers, “we also believe that an expenditure this large, and submitted with limited details, deserves additional scrutiny to ensure funds are being used effectively in pursuit of our shared goal of securing the southwest border.”
The two lawmakers, whose districts collectively represent 880 miles— nearly half— of the U.S-Mexico border, seek specific details of the location of the proposed wall, definitions of adequate natural barriers, and a breakdown of the investments in supplemental technology, infrastructure, and alleviating personnel backlogs.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is sailing toward a 2018 Senate campaign, an uphill battle that would pit the little-known congressman against one of the state’s most prominent Republicans in the unpredictable era of President Donald Trump.
“I really want to do this,” O’Rourke said in an interview Saturday in which he also promised to run a positive campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — no matter how much animus the incumbent inspires among Texas Democrats.
“Being against Ted Cruz is not a strategy,” O’Rourke said. “It might motivate some folks and might make the election of a Democrat for the first time in 30 years more likely, but it in itself is not a strategy, and so I’m really putting my time and my efforts and my thinking into what makes Texas a better place and what makes the lives of the people who live in this state better, and so I’m just going to stay focused on that.”
O’Rourke has said for weeks that he is likely to take on Cruz but has not set a timeline for an official announcement. He said Saturday he wants to make sure he is mindful of his current constituents and that “I’m thoughtful in how I make this decision and keep El Paso, my family, foremost in mind.”
“I don’t want to run unless we’re going to win, and I’m confident we can,” O’Rourke said. “I just want to make sure the way we do this, we set ourselves up for victory.”
O’Rourke’s case for the Senate seat is two-pronged. He said he believes it is more important than ever for the Senate to serve as a check on the president, and he also believes he brings a unique perspective to the immigration debate as a Democrat from El Paso — “the Ellis Island of the western hemisphere.”
O’Rourke may have Democratic company in his campaign to unseat Cruz. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio is also weighing a bid and plans to announce his decision in early April, a timeline that O’Rourke said has no bearing on his own.
“I have the greatest respect for him, consider him a good friend and have told him I think he’d make an outstanding candidate and a terrific senator for the state of Texas, but his decision-making process is outside of my control, so I can only focus on what I can do,” O’Rourke said.
If it came to it, O’Rourke said he would be open to a contested primary against Castro, again noting that is beyond his control.
If O’Rourke runs for Senate, fundraising would likely be one of his biggest challenges. While he was the underdog in his 2012 Senate campaign, Cruz has since built a national fundraising network, partly through his 2016 presidential bid.
O’Rourke has already made clear he plans not to accept PAC money in a potential Senate campaign. Asked Saturday if that would apply to money from national Democratic groups who may want to help him out, O’Rourke held firm that he “won’t take money from political action committees — and that’s across the spectrum.”
“I think folks just need to know that, clean and simple,” O’Rourke said. “When you start picking and choosing then, you know, it becomes a slippery slope and you just start doing what everyone else is doing, what everyone is so sick of and what has made Washington so dysfunctional and corporate.”
O’Rourke was visiting Austin on Saturday to speak at a rally at the Texas Capitol against some of Trump’s early actions as president, including his proposed border wall. Castro was also scheduled to address the rally. O’Rourke told the crowd that it is a “time for us take back our communities, our state, the United States Senate and the United States of America.”
Castro also spoke at the rally, invoking Cruz twice as he denounced Trump’s policies. “I hope today that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz can hear us from Washington, D.C,” Castro said shortly after taking the stage to loud cheers.
Working the crowd afterward, Castro encountered some supporters who encouraged him to run for Senate — including a man who said he had never donated the maximum amount to a campaign before but said he would do so for Castro.
Speaking with the Tribune after the rally, Castro said he is looking to announce his 2018 decision “by the end of April” and took a pass on responding to recent jabs from Cruz. The incumbent had suggested in a radio interview that Castro would be “retired from public service” if he got into the 2018 race.
“Everything that’s going on now is bigger than Ted Cruz,” Castro said, “and it’s bigger than me, honestly.”
DENVER – As President Donald Trump continues to make good on promises to deport undocumented immigrants – with some seeking protection in sanctuary churches – a new study shows U.S. cities with large immigrant populations experience lower rates of crime.
Contrary to the president’s statements, four decades of evidence shows no link between immigration and increased crime, according to Robert Adelman, the study’s lead author at the State University of New York.
“For crimes like murder, robbery, burglary and larceny – as immigration increases, crime decreases on average in American metropolitan areas,” he points out. “We found no effect of immigration on aggravated assault.”
Researchers studied census and FBI crime data in 200 metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2010.
During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly maintained immigrants increased crime. Since taking office, he has signed executive orders restricting entry into the U.S., prioritizing deportation, authorizing construction of a wall on the Mexico border, and withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities.
Adelman says facts are critical in the current political environment, and points to research showing foreign-born individuals are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.
In his view, the benefits brought by immigrant populations to U.S. cities outweigh any perceived risks.
“When we think about the benefits of immigration, you can think of economic revitalization, population growth, contributing to lower rates of vacant and abandoned buildings, cultural enrichment and – with our findings, in many cases – lower levels of crime,” Adelman stresses.
Adelman adds he hopes the research will help policymakers make decisions based on scientific evidence, not ideologies and claims that demonize particular segments of the U.S. population without facts to back them up.
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.
Via a news release and a Thursday morning news conference, the Borderland Immigration Council expressed their concern and outrage over President Donald Trump’s executive orders dealing with border security, immigrants and his fabled border wall.
Below is the Borderland Immigration Council’s complete statement:
The Borderland Immigration Council, a coalition of immigration attorneys, non-profit organizations, advocates and community members, denounces President Trump’s executive orders; asks for immediate action from Congressional, county and city officials; and demands transparency from ICE in the implementation of these new policies.
President Trump’s executive orders, signed 25 January 2017, on building a border wall, targeting asylum seekers and immigrants, and threatening the safety of our communities, are a devastating assault on our Borderplex home of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.
As advocates for immigrants and refugees, we vow to protect the fundamental rights of all people, including asylum seekers and our undocumented neighbors. The executive order announced today seeks to expedite the asylum process to a pace that threatens to undermine asylum seekers’ rights.
Expediting the process and increasing detention measures directly impact a person’s ability to have meaningful access to counsel and is in violation of due process. These fundamental principles of our democracy are now under attack. Additionally, this violates international conventions that protect the asylum seeker by fast tracking people back to countries that often fail to protect their lives.
In effect, the executive order issued today will result in the unnecessary deaths of asylum seekers who present themselves at our southern border asking for our help.
Mandatory detention criminalizes people seeking asylum and threatens family unity without regard to individualized circumstances. There are ongoing reports of inadequate treatment and inhumane conditions in immigrant detention centers in our community; increasing the use of detention not only undermines our commitment to liberty, put places more people at risk.
Finally, building a wall and pouring money into a border that is already highly militarized is an insult to us as Americans, taxpayers, and global citizens. Building a larger wall will not make America safer. It represents a scandalous misuse of resources under the guise of national security — when we know that border communities like El Paso, and those with large immigrant populations, are among the safest places to live.
We demand that our Congressional representatives, county and city elected officials and community leaders challenge the breadth and reach of these executive orders. We invite them to join us in publicly committing to fight this administration’s efforts to demonize and threaten the safety of immigrants within our communities and those seeking assistance on our borders. We ask that they ensure that the legal process is followed and that the Department of Homeland Security not abuse its discretion.
We urge ICE and CBP to be humane in all policy implementation and ask that the Department of Homeland Security clarify immediately how these policies will be implemented. We further demand that our local ICE office publicly announce how and when any new policies concerning the enforcement of immigration laws will be implemented locally and within the El Paso Area of Responsibility.
As advocates, representatives of the law, and global citizens committed to rights and justice, we denounce these executive orders as harmful to the very fabric of our communities and country.
The Borderland Immigration Council consists of immigration attorneys, local nonprofits, and members of the community who are concerned with Immigration Customs and Enforcement leadership’s pattern of denial of discretionary relief for immigrants and refugees in the El Paso area. BIC advocates for all migrants and families facing the unjust system of immigration.
The White House announced Wednesday that in addition to moving to build a barrier on the southern border, it will act to build more detention space for undocumented immigrants in the area.
As the Trump administration moves to expedite construction of a physical barrier on the southern border, it will also begin building more detention space for undocumented immigrants in the area and work to withhold federal dollars from entities that don’t enforce immigration laws, the White House announced Wednesday.
“Building this barrier is more than just a campaign promise, it’s a common-sense first step to really securing our porous border,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during a briefing. “And yes, one way or another — as the president has said before — Mexico will pay for it.”
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the executive order to create the border wall and add the detention space after the swearing-in ceremony for Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
In a speech to federal agents in Washington after signing the order, Trump said the measures would help restore peace and stability in the U.S. but would also benefit Mexico.
“This will also help Mexico by deterring illegal immigration from Central America and by disrupting violent cartel networks,” he said. “As I have said repeatedly to the country, we are going to get the bad ones out – the criminals and the drug dealers and gang and gang members and cartel leaders.”
The executive order also calls for the hiring of another 5,000 Border Patrol officers and tripling the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers currently employed by the federal government, he said.
The text of the order also gives a glimpse into how Trump expects Mexico to pay for the wall. It orders agency directors to “identify and quantify” the amount of aid the country has given to Mexico over the previous five years. Analysts have stated that one way to force Mexico to pay is to cut off foreign aid.
The order seeks to boost local and state involvement in immigration enforcement by expanding the controversial 287(g) program, which allows local and state officers to enforce immigration laws if they undergo the requisite training.
“In furtherance of this policy, the Secretary shall immediately take appropriate action to engage with the Governors of the States, as well as local officials, for the purpose of preparing to enter into agreements under section 287(g)” the order says.
Reaction to the order was swift. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund warned Wednesday that Trump’s move will cause irreversible damage.
“Aggressive interior enforcement is an abject failure, delivering tremendous upheaval and harm to families, schools, and workplaces,” MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said in a statement. “The economic disruption to critical industries, such as agriculture, from such efforts render these executive orders a direct and undiluted threat to United States national security.”
“We’re going to create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain them and return them to their country of origin,” Spicer said at the White House briefing. “We’re going to end the last administration’s dangerous catch-and-release policy, which has led to the deaths of many Americans.”
Through the Secure Communities program, administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of those arrested to a federal database to determine if the individual is eligible for deportation under current federal immigration laws. Federal funds will be withheld from cities and states that don’t comply with federal law, Spicer said.
“After these criminals spend time in prison for the crimes they have committed, they’re going to get one-way tickets to their country of origin,” he said.
In order to force those governments to take back the deportees, Spicer said the administration would consider withholding visas and “use other tools” to ensure compliance.
Border lawmakers and officials quickly criticized the idea that a wall was needed and instead advocated for a more modern solution,
During a visit to the state Capitol on Wednesday, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said he was disappointed that Trump would make the decision without reaching out to border leaders.
“It’s sad day In Laredo, Texas. And frankly on the entire border. We would hope maybe the people that surround President Trump would think differently. Maybe they can influence him still,” he said. “We respect him as our president, but we respectfully disagree with this notion of a wall. There is room for compromise — we’re not totally against any type of fencing if it’s strategically placed.”
State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Trump had no choice but to please his out-of-touch supporters.
“We’ve seen that the border wall is very expensive to maintain. It’s politics as usual,” he said. “I think Trump has to fulfill his campaign promise to build a wall, and I think Republicans across the country are lining up behind him. It’d be smart for him to invest in technology for our bridges.”
While few Texas Republicans had voiced full support for a wall during the campaign, they offered positive reviews Wednesday as word got out about Trump’s order.
“Governor Abbott is pleased with the immediate action President Trump has taken to fulfill his promise to secure the border,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The Governor looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to keep Texans safe and protect our sovereignty.”
“I’m open to anything that works,” Attorney General Ken Paxton told reporters in Austin, speaking before Trump issued the order. “If the wall is the best way to secure our border and make sure that our citizens are safe and secure, then I’m open to it.”
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who represents hundreds of miles along the Texas-Mexico border, was the lone Texas Republican on Wednesday to react negatively to Trump’s order. In a statement, he reiterated his longstanding view that a wall “is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”
Before Spicer’s briefing, Trump told ABC News that he’d find a way to compel Mexico to pay for the barrier.
“We are going to be starting those negotiations relatively soon,” he said. “Absolutely, 100 percent [they will pay us back].”
When asked about Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent statement that his government will not pay for any part of the project, Trump said, “He has to say that.”
“I am just telling you there will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form,” he continued. “You have to understand what I am doing is good for the United States. It’s also going to be good for Mexico.”
Nearly one year ago, Pope Francis visited the US-Mexico border. The images of his approach to the Rio Grande were unforgettable, where he prayed in silence for the thousands of migrants who have died in the desert seeking freedom, safety and refuge in America.
Contrast these images with Donald J. Trump’s executive orders today directing federal funds towards the construction of a wall on the United States’ southern border, expanding immigrant detention, and resurrecting the dangerous Secure Communities program.
Make no mistake: militarizing our border communities, criminalizing and jailing migrants, and co-opting local law enforcement is un-American, senseless and inhumane policy.
What will the wall not do? The wall will not stop the thousands of refugees fleeing to our border to escape hunger, violence and political instability in Mexico and Central America. The wall will not stop the flow of drugs to American consumers, most of which pass through regular ports of entry. The wall will not address the poverty wages of maquila workers who produce goods for export to the United States.
The wall will not fix the political instability in Mexico and Northern Triangle countries abetted by US support for coups, corrupt governments and broken policies. The wall will not stop the river of US firearms that flows daily into Mexico contributing to the murders of tens of thousands in a never ending drug war fueled by American addiction.
The wall will add nothing to our national security; not a single terrorist has been apprehended crossing our southern border. The wall will not reduce crime; border communities are already the safest in the country.
What will the wall do? The wall will divert tens of billions of dollars in critical investment away from under-resourced border communities and add to our national deficit. The wall will push more vulnerable refugees to their deaths in the brutal deserts of the southwest. The wall will contradict the reputation of America as a beacon of freedom in the world.
The wall will contribute to the militarization of our border, where record numbers of federal border agents have broad authority to engage in constitutionally questionable acts of search and seizure that would not be tolerated in Boston, Houston, Kansas City or San Francisco. The wall will stand as a permanent monument to the narcissism of a man who announced his ambitions for the White House by demonizing Mexicans, border communities and migrants.
With his executive orders today, Donald J. Trump signaled his intention to follow through on dangerous promises that many hoped were simply overheated campaign rhetoric. None of these policies will fix a broken immigration system; they are a devastating affront to human dignity.
Today we recommit ourselves to solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers, to defending the values and gifts of our border, and to opposing the militarization and wall-building that is tearing our families, communities and nation apart.
On his return to Rome from the border, Pope Francis’ words could not have been clearer: “A person who thinks only about building walls and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”
We couldn’t agree more. And now the work begins afresh.
Author: Dylan Corbett – Director, Hope Border Institute
In a late Wednesday afternoon release, members of the El Paso State Legislative Delegation on Border and Immigration Policy announced their position regarding the President’s proposed border wall.
Below is the entire statement:
Austin – Today, the President of the United States used his office to attack border communities and immigrants. His announcement is disappointing but not surprising, given his rhetoric as a candidate.
A wall will violate the private property rights of Americans, be prohibitively expensive, and be ineffective. The only return on investment is political, and it sends a signal to the rest of the world that America is no longer the beacon of hope for the tired and poor, who given the opportunity in our country become exceptional, just as our parents and grandparents.
If the President talked to border residents, he would hear that we need to strengthen and streamline our ports of entry, so that we can build upon our economic, cultural, and social ties with our neighbors. He would hear that we want to build bridges, not walls. We are one of the safest communities in the country because we do not target immigrants – we welcome them.
Despite policies from the federal and state level that diminish instead of build our border communities, we will continue to do so.
State Sen. José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29; State Rep. Joe Pickett represents Texas House District 79; State Rep. Joseph Moody represents Texas House District 78; State Rep. Mary Gonzalez represents Texas House District 75; State Rep. Cesar Blanco represents Texas House District 76; and State Rep. Lina Ortega represents Texas House District 77.
San Antonio, TX – Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd released the following statement regarding President Trump’s border security Executive Order:
The facts have not changed. Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border. Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need.
A wall may be an effective tool in densely populated areas, but a variety of tools are needed between Brownsville, Texas and San Diego, California. The 23rd District of Texas, which I represent has over 800 miles of the border, more than any other Member of Congress, and it is impossible to build a physical wall in much of its terrain.
Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights and economy.
There is no question that we must secure our border, but we need an intelligence-led approach in order to effectively combat the 19 criminal organizations currently operating in Mexico.
A majority of Texas’ registered voters believe Muslims who are not U.S. citizens should be banned from entering the country, according to results of a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll released Tuesday.
The survey found that 31 percent of voters “strongly supported” denying such people entry, with another 22 percent “somewhat” supporting the idea. Thirty-seven percent of voters opposed the effort while 10 percent expressed no preference.
Among Republicans, 76 percent said they would support banning non-U.S. citizen Muslims from entering the country. About 25 percent of voters who identified as Democrats agreed.
A majority of the respondents of the survey, 51 percent, also favored the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants, while 52 percent said they either “strongly” (34 percent) or “somewhat” (18 percent) supported building a wall between the United States and Mexico. Twenty-four percent of the Democrats supported immediate deportation compared with 73 percent of Republicans.
Seventy-six percent of the Republicans asked also favored a wall separating the two countries.
The poll also found that there is less-than-majority support for immigration reform with or without a path to eventual citizenship. Half of the respondents were asked about comprehensive immigration reform with a path toward citizenship for most undocumented immigrants: 24 percent of them “strongly” supported that idea, while 25 percent “somewhat” supported it.
The other half of the respondents were asked about immigration reform allowing legal residence but not citizenship: 20 percent said they “strongly” supported a path to legal status without citizenship, while 27 “somewhat” supported that idea. The margin of error for those questions is about +/- 4.07 and +/- 3.94 percentage points, respectively.
The poll of 1,200 registered voters was performed June 10-20 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Other results from the same survey, released Monday, show GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump leads Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 8 points in Texas. Trump has made banning Muslims and building a wall a centerpiece of his campaign.
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.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela took a poison pen to the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, in an open letter Monday morning.
“Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass,” the Brownsville Democrat wrote in a lengthy missive to the real estate magnate.
Later Monday, Vela elaborated on his remarks in an MSNBC interview.
“Well, I would have liked to have spoken in a much more diplomatic fashion, but I felt like I had to speak to Donald Trump in language he understands,” he said.
Vela notes in the letter that he agreed with Trump on some policies, like improving veterans’ care, addressing Mexican drug cartels and deporting criminal felons who are in the country illegally. But he also savages Trump for his rhetoric on those of Mexican descent and his promise to build a wall on the southern U.S. border.
While you would build more and bigger walls on the U.S.-Mexico border, I would tear the existing wall to pieces,” Vela wrote. “Why any modern-thinking person would ever believe that building a wall along the border of a neighboring country, which is both our ally and one of our largest trading partners, is frankly astounding and asinine.”
Vela then defended U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge overseeing litigation related to Trump’s education enterprise, Trump University. Trump has questioned Curiel’s capacity for fairness based on his Mexican heritage. Curiel was born in Indiana.
Vela then pointed out that his own family lineage in the United States goes back farther than Trump’s paternal grandfather.
“Before you dismiss me as just another ‘Mexican,’ let me point out that my great-great grandfather came to this country in 1857, well before your own grandfather,” he wrote. “His grandchildren (my grandfather and his brothers) all served our country in World War I and World War II. His great-grandson, my father, served in the U.S. Army and, coincidentally, was one of the first ‘Mexican’ federal judges ever appointed to the federal bench.”
“I will not presume to speak on behalf of every American of Mexican descent, for every undocumented worker born in Mexico who is contributing to our country every day or, for that matter, every decent citizen in Mexico,” he added.
Vela further said on MSNBC that Trump is likely to lose Republican Hispanics in Texas.
“To the extent that the Republican Party has made gains amongst Latinos in the state of Texas, that’s because there have been some Republican leaders in Texas that have reached out to Hispanic voters,” he said. “I think that with this kind of racist rhetoric that we’re hearing from Donald Trump, that many of those Latino voters who may have previously voted Republican are going to vote for the Democratic candidate in this case.”
A request for comment from the Trump campaign was not immediately returned Monday.
LAREDO — It’s a scene repeated often in Texas towns along the Rio Grande: a white U.S. Border Patrol van sporting the agency’s trademark green stripe competing with a Laredo Police Department car at a busy Stripes convenience store.
Just two miles away, a nondescript orange building tucked between a bus stop and the Mariscos El Pescador restaurant houses divisions of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Across the street, dozens of Border Patrol SUVS and trucks fill a block-long parking lot.
If nothing else, the money and manpower being deployed to keep unauthorized immigrants, terrorists and drugs out of the country have flooded Texas border counties with law enforcement. Crime has dropped, and the Texas side of the border apparently is now safer than the state’s larger cities. But a political tug-of-war about the security needs of the region remains full of fiery rhetoric and competing views about how safe border communities really are.
“It’s much safer than say San Antonio, Houston or Dallas,” said Democratic state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who represents a McAllen-based district. “It’s certainly much safer than Washington D.C. or Chicago.”
State and federal crime data backs those claims: Violent crime rates have remained the same or dropped in many border cities in the last five years for which data is available.
In 2014, Houston’s violent crime rate — counting murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — stood at 991 crimes for every 100,000 residents, according to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report. The violent crime rate in Dallas was 665 crimes for every 100,000 residents.
Border communities like Laredo, El Paso, Edinburg and Brownsville all saw fewer than 400 crimes for every 100,000 residents.
Brownsville is one of the few cities where crime rates, though relatively low, have increased recently, rising from 253 crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2009 to 304 in 2014.
Meanwhile, the violent crime in El Paso, the most populous border town, has dropped from 457 crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2009 to 393 in 2014. For years, the West Texas city has been declared the safest of its size, according to Congressional Quarterly.
The FBI report includes crimes voluntarily reported by local law enforcement agencies across the country, and the agency warns against using the data to directly compare cities. Rankings of cities by crime rates “ignore the uniqueness of each locale” and the local factors that influence crime, the bureau says.
But to some on the ground, the influx of agents, troopers, deputies and guardsmen to the border has had a noticeable impact.
“You’ve got to understand, we’re a border city so we have a lot of local law enforcement,” said Ponce Treviño, Webb County Jail commander. “You have Laredo [Police Department]. You have Webb County Sheriff’s Office. You’ve got the constables. Then you have the federal government here. You’ve got customs. You’ve got border patrol. You’ve got ICE. You have a big influx of law enforcement and there’s officer presence, so that makes the crime rate a lot lower.”
And it’s quite a law enforcement stew — local police and sheriff’s departments, Border Patrol agents, DPS troopers, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, the FBI, DEA and the Texas National Guard, among others.
Border Patrol staffing in the Southwest Border section — which includes Arizona,California, New Mexico and Texas — grew from 17,408 in federal fiscal year 2009 to 18,127 in fiscal year 2014. The count of agents in the region has more than doubled since 2001.
At least 100 more DPS troopers have been sent recently to patrol the Rio Grande Valley after graduating from an abbreviated trooper academy — part of an effort to permanently add 250 more troopers to the area by the end of the year.
Approximately 5,600 peace officers work at county sheriff and constable offices and local police departments along the border. More than half of those officers work for police departments in four counties: Hidalgo, El Paso, Cameron and Webb.
Home to Edinburg and McAllen, Hidalgo County alone has 1,566 pairs ofboots on the ground even without federal and state law enforcement assigned to patrol the area. There are also about 100 Texas National Guard soldiers that remain as part of Texas’ 2014 deployment. And federal agencies — ICE, DEA and the FBI — have long had their own agents sprinkled along the border.
Much of the recent law enforcement surge has been pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, prompting some curious political anomalies. Republicans have fought for — and largely succeeded in obtaining — record expenditures for border security, but they continue to argue the border is unsafe.
Democrats argue against “militarizing” the border but acknowledge the influx of law enforcement has made it a safer place.
“When you have more and more visibility, there’s obviously a deterrent for those who commit crimes,” Hinojosa said. “We’re dealing with some serious problems on the border … that’s why this last [legislative] session we focused on law enforcement that will be effective.”
Despite the crime statistics, border officials say they must continually push back against widespread perceptions that their communities are caught up in the violence wracking towns across the Rio Grande in Mexico.
Republicans don’t help when they argue for more resources by portraying the area as a hotbed of narco terrorism and immigrant crime. But they contend the border is an entry point from which crime spreads throughout the state.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed a sweeping, multimillion-dollar border security measure last June flanked by Republican lawmakers at a Texas DPS office in Houston. Abbott said the ceremony’s location was appropriate because a porous border means the entire state — not just the stretch of cities hugging the Rio Grande — is in peril.
For others, perceptions of unsafe conditions in border communities are driven by the incorrect assumption that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than the general population.
“If people connect undocumented immigration with safety, they would be wrong saying that because they pass through the border the border communities are less safe,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a public affairs and security studies professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
A Texas Tribune analysis of incarceration and immigration records found there is little evidence that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at higher rates than the general population and they appear to be underrepresented in both Texas prisons and Texas’ death row.
“I really believe that the people that make it to our community from other countries including Mexico — and in El Paso’s case primarily Mexico — are here to get ahead, to work hard, to do well,” said Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, D-El Paso. “They want to see their kids succeed, they want to integrate. Part and parcel with that is staying out of trouble.”
For many border residents, concerns in Austin about the area’s safety don’t reflect their daily reality. But many accept that perceptions weigh heavily into the rhetoric condemning the area.
Jim Ward, a fifth-generation El Pasoan and local business owner, said that he thinks his hometown is safe. But he fears what would happen if one person entered the United States through Mexico with the intent of doing serious and widespread harm.
“I think everybody can see how quickly our border would change if one person comes through and does something,” Ward said. “Then it’s not going to be about farm workers anymore, it’s not going to be about maids. It’s going to be about terrorists. I have a real fear that this will turn into a police state pretty quickly.”