Border Security: From Bold to Bull

White vs. Perry on Border Security

If border security weren’t such a highly politicized concept we might get closer to securing the border. Less campaign grandstanding and actual honest-to-God communication and planning among the governor’s camp and local border law enforcement could go a long way. But then there’s a gubernatorial race going on folks, so enough of my dreaming…

Last week gubernatorial candidate Bill White released his border security plan. It actually makes sense and isn’t riddled with the Chuck Norris-like action movie titles that Governor Perry so favors in his border security programs: Ranger Recon, Operation Wrangler etc. Remember those? It’s been a year since Perry unleashed Ranger Recon. The Associated Press recently did an open records request to try and figure out what this elite cadre of Texas Rangers was up to along the border. Guess what? There are no records. Not even a rudimentary number of how many of the 144 rangers have been deployed to the border. Is it working? A valid question since we’re paying for it. Here’s the response the AP got from the governor’s office:

“State officials insist they do not tally arrests or drug and property seizures under the program, which they say doesn’t have its own budget after more than a year in operation. They say the Ranger Recon teams are paid out of the state’s larger border security initiative, but decline to put a dollar figure on the program’s costs. Nor will they say how many of the state’s 144 Rangers, the top criminal investigators in Texas, participate or where the teams have been active.”

Yep, it’s top, top secret, people. Remember Perry’s Phase 1 of the border violence spillover plan which he instituted back in March? No one’s sure, including border officials, about what Perry’s spillover plan entails or whether it’s working either. Again, it’s top secret stuff, people.

So therein lies my biggest criticism of Texas’ current state of border security under Rick Perry. There’s a whole lot of bold talk but no accountability, transparency or consultation with border officials or border law enforcement. Obviously,  we Texans realize this is sensitive law enforcement stuff. It’s not like we expect diagrams and people’s addresses. But it would be nice to know how much we’re spending, and if it’s working.

And now, finally,  to Mr. White’s plan. How absolutely revolutionary to advocate for coordination between the state and border law enforcement. And he has pledged to personally attend the semi-annual meetings of federal, state and local law enforcement. So next time there’s a recon or an operation so-and-so announced along the border. The response from border law enforcement won’t be, huh?

White also proposes to fix the mess at DPS. Top leadership have been abandoning DPS for some time. And there are chronic staffing shortages. In a 2009 border security audit, the State Auditors Office criticized the Governor’s Emergency Management Division, which oversees much of the border security funding with not coordinating with DPS about where best to allocate the funds. Both agencies need to work together.

Also, spending the federal and state funding for border security more efficiently would help too. That same 2009 audit found that Perry’s administration had only spent about 56 percent of the $142.3 million in border security funding doled out between 2006 and 2009. The state auditors said the Governor’s Emergency Management Division needed to do a better job of tracking expenditures and reallocating unspent funds to places in greatest need of border security funding. The Division had also not conducted grant reviews or required the proper paperwork to be turned in from grant recipients, the auditors said.

I do find one aspect of White’s border security plan disappointing, however. White is promoting the federal Secure Communities program in Texas jails. This Immigration and Customs Enforcement program places ICE agents in local jails. Houston, under White’s tenure, was the first city in Texas to adopt the program back in October 2008. Since then, they’ve deported 6,627 people — the second highest in the nation after Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona. The goal of Secure Communities, according to ICE, is to deport the worst criminals. Not a bad idea. But increasingly, it’s people with misdemeanor traffic offenses and other petty crimes who are being deported. Often leaving behind U.S. citizen children.

So we’ve gotten rid of a bad driver who will never drive America’s highways again. But what we’re left with is a broken family who may have to turn to government assistance to survive. Which is the worse crime?

Secure Communities also blurs the line between law enforcement and federal immigration officers, disrupting any advances made in community policing. Undocumented residents are not going to call the police the next time a crime happens if they fear being deported.

So: We’ve had nearly a decade of Perry and an assortment of border security programs:from Rio Grande to Ranger Recon. How about Operation Transparency? It would be nice to know what we’re paying for and whether it’s working. But then, that might be too much to ask during election season.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

Published at 8:10 pm CST
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