The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Wednesday that if lawmakers permit it, he will provide a border House member with information about the state’s security operations in the region — a move that follows weeks of tense exchanges over how millions of border security dollars are being spent.
“The Department of Public Safety works for the members and we work for the governor and the lieutenant governor," DPS Director Steve McCraw said after a closed-door meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday. "If [Rep. César Blanco] wants specific data and if, collectively, the Texas Legislature or leadership directs DPS to collect specific data, we will develop mechanisms and put them in place so we can catch the data and report it."
Blanco, D-El Paso, requested Wednesday's meeting with McCraw after writing the director three times in March to ask that the agency provide lawmakers with statistics on the success DPS specifically is having with its extended border surge, called Operation Strong Safety. The initiative began last June in response to the tens of thousands of undocumented Central American immigrants entering Texas through the Rio Grande Valley.
The surge came with an initial price tag of $86 million but has since been extended. It now includes participation by the Texas National Guard and has cost more than $100 million.
Blanco has been an outspoken critic of Operation Strong Safety and what he calls militarization of the border. That is partly due to what he calls DPS's inability to provide statistics on what the agency is accomplishing on the border. The agency's response to Blanco's requests in March included combined statistics from every agency involved in the operation, including the federal Department of Homeland Security, the Texas National Guard and local law enforcement agencies. Blanco wants DPS-specific figures.
Blanco said after the closed-door meeting — which also included Reps. Armando Walle, D-Houston; Sergio Muñoz, D-Palmview; and Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo — that he was “encouraged” by what he heard, but that the department still hasn't provided him the information he has asked for.
“I do know that there is classified information so I am going to follow up [and ask] for another meeting with the classified information,” Blanco said. “I hope that that will provide different numbers, or the numbers that I’ve been requesting.”
When asked why the figures Blanco had been clamoring for hadn't yet been made available, McCraw said it was a matter of analyzing the data the right way.
“We have statistics, we have all the statistics in the world,” he said. “You got to make sure when you have the statistics that they are properly analyzed. We’ll be glad to assist whatever representative with whatever information at any given time.”
During the House's budget debate, Blanco offered an amendment that would have required DPS to provide specific data on the number of arrests, seizures and apprehensions it conducts, and detailed reports on how state money is being spent on the border.
The amendment failed, but Blanco said he’d continue to try and convince lawmakers to adopt the language during the conference committee process. Walle, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, confirmed he was working with Blanco on the language.
Blanco said he has also asked for a meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott to help move the needle.
“My concern is this: Time is running out in the Legislature. I trust that [McCraw] would accept the guidelines. I am hopeful that he will,” he said. “But I think that it is the responsibility of the Legislature. The clock is ticking.”
Katherine Cesinger, a DPS spokeswoman, said Wednesday afternoon that McCraw would continue to discuss the issue with Blanco and other members.
"Col. McCraw believes this morning’s meeting was very productive, and as he and the legislators discussed, he is committed to continuing these conversations with Rep. Blanco and any member who has an interest in discussing the ongoing, state-directed border security efforts being implemented by the department," she said.