Months after Texas beefed up its border security presence in the Rio Grande Valley and deployed the Texas National Guard there in response to a record increase in illegal crossings, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants to know what it would cost to expand the projects through 2016.
In mid-June, Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio and Gov. Rick Perry authorized a Department of Public Safety surge in the Rio Grande Valley that has an estimated cost of $1.3 million per week. In July, Perry ordered the deployment of up to 1,000 Texas National Guard members to the area, a mission that will cost $38 million through the end of the year.
Dewhurst, who leaves office in January, wrote the guard’s Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw on Wednesday asking for an estimate of the costs of expanding the operations from the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo; from the Rio Grande Valley to Del Rio; and from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso.
“The border areas extending west to El Paso have not received the benefits of the surge,” he wrote. “While there is no doubt that the Rio Grande Valley remains the epicenter of the transnational threat, we must strive to defend all 1,200 miles, not just one sector, to fully defend Texas.”
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In fiscal year 2014, U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector apprehended more than 52,300 family units and 50,000 unaccompanied minors. The state’s response was intended to provide support to federal law enforcement agencies, which state leaders said could be overwhelmed by the influx of undocumented immigrants, making the U.S. vulnerable to crime and terrorism. The summer deployments were hailed by some as a state response to a federal government unable or unwilling to secure the border. But border Democrats protested, calling the surge a stain on their communities. They also called out Republicans for the price tag and said the money should be spent on education and other necessities.
In his letter, Dewhurst said that based on U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions, the surge is working.
“The Rio Grande Valley has experienced sector has experienced a greater than two-thirds drop in illegal border crossings since late June,” he wrote. Dewhurst also requested information on how technology can be used in the border security efforts, specifically in less-populated areas of the state’s southern border.