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Apprehensions at Texas-Mexico Border Spiked in May

The number of families caught entering the country illegally at the southwest border in May increased sixfold compared with the same month in 2017. But despite that increase, some of Texas’ historically busiest areas for illegal crossings have seen an overall decrease this fiscal year.

The number of family units who were apprehended or turned themselves in to border agents on the southwest border from October 2017 to May was 59,113, according to statistics released Wednesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That represents a slight decrease from the 61,809 apprehended during the same time frame in the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, which runs from October to September.

The statistics come during a nationwide outcry from Democrats and immigrant rights groups over a recently adopted policy where parents caught crossing illegally en route to seek asylum are incarcerated and separated from their minor children. The family separations have prompted a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The statistics show that the overall figures in family unit apprehensions represent a drop in Texas’s busiest border sectors during the same time-frame comparison: The Big Bend and Del Rio sectors of the U.S. Border Patrol recorded a 19 and 24 percent drop, respectively, while the El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley sectors saw a drop of 36, 48 and 10 percent.

The figures for May, however, show a surge in family unit apprehensions across the southwest border. Last month, 9,485 family units were caught or turned themselves in, compared with 1,580 in May 2017. The El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors saw significant increases in May: In 2017 agents recorded 166 and 973 family unit apprehensions, respectively. That’s compared to 898 and 6,630 last month.

The Department of Homeland Security said the figures justify the recent deployment of the National Guard to the area, the push for a border wall and the need for Congress to close “loopholes” in immigration laws that prompt asylum seekers to enter the country illegally.

“These numbers show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors,” DHS press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement. “We are taking action and will be referring and then prosecuting 100 percent of illegal border crossers, we are building the first new border wall in a decade, and we have deployed the National Guard to the border.”

The number of unaccompanied children trying to enter the country has increased slightly during the current fiscal year. From October 2017 to May of this year, 32,372 were encountered by border agents, compared to 2017’s 31,063. Those figures represent a 4 percent increase. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, that figure shows a 22 percent decrease, though the Big Bend, El Paso and Laredo sectors saw increases of 78, 9 and 48 percent during the same time frame.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

UT/TT Poll: Texans Take a Hard Line on Immigration and Refugees

A majority of Texans support banning Syrian refugees and blocking individuals from seven countries from entering the United States, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

They balk, but only a bit, at banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country, the poll found.

Asked about banning Syrian refugees, 54 percent they support that policy — 37 percent of them “strongly” so. Republicans are with President Trump on the issue: 65 percent strongly support a ban, and another 17 percent “somewhat” support a ban. Democrats are on the other side, with 51 percent “strongly” opposing the ban and 18 percent “somewhat” opposing it. White Texans support a ban (63 percent), while a plurality of black (49 percent) and a slight majority of Hispanic Texans (51 percent) oppose one.

The responses were similar to a question about blocking entry of people traveling from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — the seven countries listed in an executive order from President Trump. Overall, 56 percent support temporarily blocking entry from those countries while 38 percent oppose it. Again, there’s a partisan split, with 88 percent of Republicans in favor and 71 percent of Democrats opposed to blocking travel.

Graphic by Emily Albracht

“I’m used to talking about how Texans are more open about this stuff, but these are more conservative than the national numbers,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

Republicans said they would support banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the U.S., with 51 percent strongly in support and another 16 percent somewhat in support. But the overall numbers for a religious ban were mixed, with 45 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. Among Democrats, only 19 percent support a ban, while 56 were strongly opposed and another 16 percent were somewhat opposed.

“The administration has claimed that this is not a Muslim ban, and you can see the social undesirability of it in the answer here,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

“Sanctuary” cities

Half of Texans oppose “sanctuary” cities, where local police and city government employees don’t automatically enforce immigration laws by turning undocumented immigrants over to federal authorities. Only 37 percent support that practice.

Republicans in state government are pushing hard for a ban on sanctuary cities, and their voters appear to be solidly behind them: 71 percent “strongly oppose” sanctuary cities and another 8 percent “somewhat oppose” them. Democrats support them, but not as intensely: 41 percent strongly support sanctuary cities and 24 percent somewhat support them.

A narrow majority of Hispanics — 53 percent — are with the sanctuary cities. Among white Texans, 30 percent are with them and 61 percent are against; 41 percent of black Texans are with the cities and 29 percent are against.

“This the kind of debate that does better in the ivory tower than it does out on the streets,” said Shaw. “But if the supporters of sanctuary cities get their message out, their base lines up. The overall numbers are dismal, but Democrats in the electorate are open to it if their elites can and will make the argument.”

Undocumented students

A plurality of Texans — 47 percent — would continue to extend in-state tuition at state colleges and universities to undocumented immigrants who graduated from Texas high schools, have lived in the state for three years or more and have applied for U.S. citizenship. More than a third — 36 percent — would have those students pay higher out-of-state tuition rates.

As in so many responses in the current poll, the party flags were flying in these answers: 66 percent of Democrats said the students should pay in-state tuition, and 57 percent of Republicans said they should pay out-of-state tuition. Among Tea Party Republicans, 68 percent said out-of-state tuition should apply.

Even so, Texas politicians have been more forgiving on this issue than their counterparts in other states, and they have suffered for that in national elections.

“[National politicians] wonder why Rick Perry and others had this albatross around their necks, but they were reflecting Texas attitudes,” Shaw said.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 3 to Feb. 10 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. Yesterday: What Texans think of the new president, and their views on the economy and the direction of the country and state. Coming Wednesday: Texas voters on education.

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


Author:  ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Six Years after First Attempt, Fight over Anti-Sanctuary Cities Bill has Changed

Bills targeting “sanctuary cities” failed to pass the Texas Legislature in 2011 and 2015, but similar efforts this session have better chances of making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

The Legislature is gearing up for a fight over “sanctuary cities” bills — and not for the first time. The current debate was foreshadowed by one in 2011, but this time, chances are better that a bill could make it to Gov. Greg Abbott‘s desk.

Texas’ proposed 2011 ban on sanctuary cities, the common term for local entities that don’t enforce federal immigration laws, would have authorized local police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they arrested or detained. It led to fears that immigrants wouldn’t report crimes and that officers could detain people based solely on skin color and turn them over to federal immigration officers.

“Texas Can Do Better” and “No Arizona Hate” were common mantras from critics of the legislation that reverberated around the State Capitol in 2011 — references to a controversial Arizona bill that expanded the immigration enforcement powers of local law enforcement and passed that state’s legislature in 2010.

The plan, marked as an emergency item by then-Gov. Rick Perry, failed to pass the Texas Legislature in 2011, and similar legislation died in the Texas Senate in 2015. As expected, Republicans are taking another crack at passing a bill this year, and Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have labeled the issue a “legislative priority.”

Bills filed in both chambers — Senate Bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and House Bill 889 by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth — would allow local police to enforce immigration laws, but only if the officer is working with a federal immigration officer or under an agreement between the local and federal agency. It would also punish governments if their law enforcement agencies — specifically county jails — fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for sheriffs to hand over immigrants in their custodies for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds.

This time around, one border Democrat has conceded that he could support the detainer component of the current proposals, especially if it means it will keep more extreme measures at bay.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said data from ICE and testimony from county sheriffs earlier this year shows that county jail compliance isn’t the issue Republicans make it out to be.

“We had hearings, and all 254 counties [in Texas] were cooperating with ICE,” Rodríguez said, referring to out-of-session meetings held last year. “So if it [only has a detainer provision], nobody has a problem with that, as far as I can tell.”

The ICE component of the legislation has become a major focus for Republicans, especially after Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez drew Abbott’s ire in 2014 after she said she would cooperate with ICE only on a case-by-case basis. New Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez added to the controversy when she was she was running for office last year, saying she wouldn’t cooperate with ICE. Valdez later said she had been taken out of context, but state officials had already jumped on the comments.

A Texas Tribune analysis of ICE data shows that Texas counties weren’t the main offenders when it came to denying federal requests. Only 146 of the country’s 18,646 declined ICE detainers between January 2014 and September 2015 came from Texas jails. Travis County was at the top of the list with 72, while Bexar County had 11. Valdez’s Dallas County Jail declined only two, according to the data. And two of Texas’ largest border counties – Webb and Hidalgo – recorded three, while El Paso County only recorded one. (A spokeswoman for the Webb County Jail said it didn’t deny those requests — the inmates were transferred to another county where they also faced charges.)

Though the legislation doesn’t apply to a person that is detained because they are a victim of or witness to a crime, Rodríguez said he still has concerns about the bill because it’s written so broadly that it opens the door to police enforcement.

“It’s consistent with an interpretation that their intent is to have local police ask about immigration status,” he said. “Because on the other hand, what they’re saying is that if you have a so-called sanctuary city that prohibits them from inquiring, they are going to be penalized and sanctioned with loss of funds. So obviously those two combined together suggests [they] want people to be checked.”

Sen. Perry’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story. But Geren said it’s too early in the process to predict what the final bill will look like and said he is willing to talk to anyone who has concerns about the legislation.

“We haven’t vetted it through the committee process at this point,” he said. “I want to work with law enforcement to make sure that we’re not discouraging people from coming forward, so there is a still a lot to talk about.”

Geren was adamant that sheriffs needed to comply with ICE detainers.

“That’s a large portion of the bill that we want to pass. But obviously there are some sheriffs that have said that they are not going to do it, and that causes a problem,” he said. “But I understand that some of the rural counties, where ICE is not in the jail every day, could be a financial burden to do it.”

Lawmakers could also face some pushback from the business community because of a provision in the bill that permits a person to file a complaint with the attorney general if they think that a local government isn’t following the provisions of the bill.

“If you are a sheriff and I am running against you, all I have to do is to allege you are doing something nefarious, as I read the legislation, and then the [attorney general] has the authority to open an investigation,” said Bill Hammond, the former CEO and president of the Texas Association of Business and current president of consulting firm Bill Hammond and Associates. “I stand to be corrected, but a mere allegation not being substantiated could trigger and probably would trigger an investigation of an incumbent. That’s bad politics.”

Related Tribune coverage:

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

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

Trump’s Rhetoric and State’s Border Surge Colored Immigration Debate in 2016

The president-elect’s tough border talk propelled him to victory, the U.S. Supreme Court dashed President Obama’s deferred action hopes and the Texas border surge drew questions.

Between a presidential candidate making a border wall the centerpiece of his winning campaign and debates over whether local or state officials were doing enough on the complicated issue, illegal immigration was at the forefront of the political landscape in 2016.

Here’s a look at the year’s biggest stories related to immigration and the border, all of which could reverberate during next year’s legislative session in Austin and the upcoming transition of power in Washington, D.C.

1. Border talk helps propel Trump to White House

In 2015, Donald Trump, then a new candidate for president, quickly sparked outrage among border residents and many Democrats after he said Mexico was sending “criminals” and “rapists” to the United States and promised to build a “big, beautiful” wall on the southern border. He also vowed to eliminate NAFTA, a 20-year-old trade deal that has made some Texas cities among the busiest trade hubs in the country.

In 2016, with little change in his rhetoric, Trump survived the Republican primaries and withstood a grueling general election to be elected the next president of the United States.

The real estate mogul’s surprise victory immediately sparked fear in some border communities, as residents wondered whether Trump would make good on his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Although he scaled back his tough deportation talk concerning DREAMers — immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents or guardians — in December, uncertainty still lingers.

Trump’s recent decision to tap Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general and outspoken border security hawk, as his pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security prompted several analysts to conclude Trump’s administration plans to take a hard-line approach to immigration policies.

2. Sanctuary cities debate

The issue of “sanctuary cities” — a term that broadly refers to a local government that doesn’t enforce federal immigration policies — was once again at the forefront of state politics in 2016 after Gov. Greg Abbott continued a fight he started the previous year with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. Abbott accused Valdez, a Democrat, of creating a sanctuary city in Dallas after she said in an interview she’d limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement when the agency makes requests that deportable immigrants be handed over for possible removal.

Valdez later said her words were taken out of context and that her jail never declined to turn over a person to federal authorities. (A 2016 Texas Tribune analysis revealed most Texas jails cooperate well with ICE). Still, Abbott threatened to cut off state funding to any county sheriff’s department that didn’t cooperate with immigration officials.

The issue was also a major talking point for several GOP candidates who won their primaries and general elections this year. Afterward, several lawmakers filed bills for the upcoming legislative session to ban sanctuary cities. Both Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have described the legislation as a priority next year.

3. Influx of Central American asylum seekers continues

A recent influx of women and children from Central America crossing the Rio Grande into Texas and seeking asylum slowed some in 2015, only to regain strength this year.

Agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol came across about 52,000 families and about 36,700 unaccompanied minors during the 2016 fiscal year. That’s compared to 27,400 and 23,864, respectively, the year before. The federal government’s 2016 fiscal year began in October 2015 and ran through September 2016.

Overall, the total number of apprehensions on the country’s southwest border increased by more than 77,500 to 408,870 in 2016, compared to 331,333 in the prior year.

Though the Rio Grande Valley was the epicenter of the exodus, the figures show that each sector in Texas saw at least a double-digit percentage increase in 2016. In the Del Rio sector, apprehensions of unaccompanied minors increased by 18 percent and family units by 66 percent. In Big Bend, the increases were 13 and 30 percent, respectively.

The Laredo sector saw a 20 percent increase in apprehensions of minors and family units, while the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, saw an increase in minor apprehensions of 134 percent — from 1,662 in 2015 to 3,885 in 2016.

The overwhelming majority of the undocumented immigrants — most of whom say they are fleeing violence and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — turned themselves into law enforcement on the border and were then processed by immigration agents.

4. The Texas border surge

When lawmakers approved a record $800 million for border security efforts in 2015, border Democrats balked at what they said was a waste of money. The majority of the people crossing illegally, they argued, were women and children fleeing violence and poverty and not people intent on harming Texans.

In 2016, those cries grew louder when lawmakers accused the state’s Department of Public Safety, which received the lion’s share of the money, of failing to provide data that showed the effort was working. Instead lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said that although DPS was able to make security improvements in Starr and Hidalgo counties, smugglers simply adjusted their routes and entered Texas through adjacent counties.

But Texas DPS Director Col. Steve McCraw said that wasn’t an anomaly and instead assured budget writers that the outcome was what the agency expected. A quick fix was never a possibility, he said, and securing the entire border would take more time.

The agency also told lawmakers that it would seek about $300 million in additional monies to keep the surge going. But with the price of oil and the decline in the natural gas industry, budget writers expressed doubts in October about whether DPS will get everything it asks for during next year’s legislative session.

5. U.S. Supreme Court ends Obama’s deferred action bid

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court finally put an end to an executive order issued by President Obama in 2014 that sought to let as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants in the country live and work without the fear of deportation.

Obama issued his deferred action order in November 2014, but Gov. Greg Abbott, then the state’s attorney general, quickly filed suit to stop the program. Twenty-five states would eventually sign on to the lawsuit. The program was scheduled to take effect in February 2015 but was halted that month by a U.S. district judge in Brownsville, who ruled that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal regulations are made and how much input the public has.

The White House asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to let the program proceed but was denied twice.

In July, the White House asked the Supreme Court if it would reconsider the case when it had a full bench. It is still one short since the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But in October the court announced it would not take up the case again, leaving in place the lower court ruling that blocked the program.

Author: 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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