Efforts to Divert Border Security Funding Mostly Fall Flat in Budget Debate

House Democrats tried — and mostly failed — to divert funds allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s budget debate.

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, confers with State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, during a point of order called on House Bill 11 on March 18, 2015.

House Democrats tried — and mostly failed — to divert funds allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s marathon budget debate.

But the rancor over immigration enforcement that many expected didn’t materialize after lawmakers agreed to pull down amendments that, if debated, would have aired ideological differences over the contentious issue.

After predicting a “bloody day” on the House floor, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, pulled an amendment that would have reduced the appropriations for a public college or university by the same amount that it awarded in grants or financial aid to undocumented students. 

Last month, Stickland expressed frustration over the lack of traction for a bill he filed to eliminate a 2001 provision that allows undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.

But on Tuesday, Stickland, with little attention or fanfare, withdrew the amendment after discussions with lawmakers.

"We did some negotiations," he said.  

An amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would have defunded the state’s Border Faculty Loan Repayment Program, which was created to help keep doctoral students on the border to teach, was also withdrawn with little attention. 

On the funding, Democrats made good on their promises to try and take money from border security operations, which was at about $565 million when the day began, to local entities or other state departments.

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, sought to transfer $5 million from the DPS’s general operating budget to local law enforcement entities to establish a Border Death Humanitarian and Identification Fund. But Blanco, who has been highly critical of what he said is DPS’s inability to prove that the current border surge is yielding positive results, lost out after his amendment was tabled.

An amendment from state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, aimed to divert $10 million from the department’s general revenue fund to its emergency preparedness operations. That failed, as did an attempt to transfer $2 million from DPS to the Parks and Wildlife Department.

State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, attempted to limit DPS’s mission on the border to interdiction, intelligence and organized crime investigations. He also sought to eliminate the department’s ability to issue traffic citations. Guillen’s amendment was also tabled.

State Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, failed to divert about $673,000 from DPS’s operating budget to aid residents of colonias, pockets of impoverished neighborhoods that are prevalent on the border. But she ran into opposition from Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who said taking the money would make Texas less safe. There are about 260 colonias in González’s district. The amendment was eventually tabled.

But one border lawmaker had tentative success in transferring money from DPS to his district for local law enforcement grants. An amendment by state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, would take $10 million from the agency for that effort. But it’s contingent upon another measure — Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s House Bill 11, an omnibus border security bill — making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and getting signed.

Republicans had a bit more success in shifting money.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was able to direct money into the state’s military forces for paid training for Texas’ 2,300 members of the reserve unit.

“Most of them reside in most of our districts, and we have zeroed out money for training,” he said.

But the success came after a lengthy back-and-forth between Huberty and members upset at where the funds would be taken from. Huberty offered one amendment that would have taken $2.2 million from the Texas Agriculture Department. That didn’t sit well with Democrat Tracy King, D-Batesville, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Huberty eventually pulled that amendment and instead took $2.2 million from the Texas Facilities Commission.

Huberty specified on Monday that the money is not intended to extend the Texas National Guard’s deployment on the Texas-Mexico border.

The House budget must still pass the Senate, and Tuesday's budget battle indicates the two chambers will be at odds over border security spending. The Senate's version has stayed at $815 million, which includes extending the deployment of the Texas National Guard on the border until 2017.