Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment from the Department of Public Safety.
A Democratic congressman has asked the federal government to do what the Texas Department of Public Safety has said it can’t: Provide information on what role federal agents have played during the state’s multimillion-dollar border surge.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has asked Customs and Border Protection officials for data showing how many apprehensions and drug busts federal agents have made during the state’s Operation Strong Safety. The operation is a state-led effort that began last June in response to the wave of undocumented immigrants that breached the Texas-Mexico border.
Castro’s request comes weeks after state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said DPS would not provide his office a breakdown of how local, state and federal agencies were each performing during the mission. Blanco said the information would help inform lawmakers on whether millions spent by the state has been a wise investment.
Castro's request gets the federal government into the fray.
“Because Texas DPS has been unable to provide the metrics related to local and state efforts, the federal government’s account will help elucidate the role OSS has had on Texas-Mexico border security,” Castro wrote to CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske.
The Texas DPS has asked for $123 million to continue the mission, Castro explains, and the information would be essential to budget writers who are considering the request.
“We must examine whether this operation, at the local, state and federal levels, has had the desired effect of further protecting the Texas border or if state officials should re-examine the use of taxpayer funds for this operation,” Castro wrote. "Additionally we must disaggregate the state and local efforts from federal efforts to determine whether the state's use of additional funds did in fact further secure the Texas-Mexico border."
But DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said in a statement that trying to unravel the threads of various law enforcement agencies reveals little about the surge's overall success.
"The success of Operation Strong Safety is a function of all law enforcement partners working together," Vinger said. "Taking any one entity’s outputs and then attempting to determine the success of the operation based on that one subset of data is completely invalid."
In correspondence between DPS Director Steve McCraw and Blanco’s office last month, the DPS chief said he didn’t have the breakdown Blanco wanted.
“The number of apprehensions are inclusive of all participants as we do not delineate between local law enforcement departments and other state agencies,” McCraw said in a letter dated March 30.
According to McCraw, more than 77,100 apprehensions had been made as part of Operation Strong Safety from June 2014 to February 2015. There had also been about 421,817 pounds of marijuana, 811 pounds of cocaine, 793 pounds of methamphetamine and about 33.5 pounds of heroin seized as part of the operation.
The agency added that it had been transparent and cooperative with Blanco’s office.
Since Blanco publicly aired the exchange between his office and DPS, the San Antonio Express-News and the El Paso Times have published opinion pieces critical of DPS for not being more forthcoming with its metrics.
On Tuesday Blanco said he welcomed Castro's effort.
"It is my hope that Congressman Castro's inquiry will either help uncover a tremendous success or an epic waste of money by our state," he said in an email. "This is about accountability and transparency."
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.
- Letter to CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske (39.9 KB) DOWNLOAD