Border security is constitutionally the duty of the federal government. But for the last decade in Texas, lawmakers have made it a budgetary priority of the state.
Texas officials have lobbied Washington for years to spend more resources on securing the border, and have even asked the federal government to reimburse the state for its expenditures. In 2014, Governor Rick Perry said that the day would eventually come that the feds would pay up.
The day may be coming after all.
In a press release Monday, Governor Greg Abbott announced that the federal government has agreed to dispatch National Guard troops under federal orders on the Texas-Mexico border to the tune of $2.3 million.
But when Rick Perry said the feds would eventually pay up, he probably envisioned a little more than that. In fact, the additional $2.3 million pales in comparison to the $800 million the state legislature appropriated for the effort this year.
Lawmakers originally began appropriating funds for these efforts as a response to what they considered a lack of focus and willpower on the part of the federal government. The state’s funding rose sharply under President Barack Obama, who famously signed an Executive Order halting enforcement of certain immigration laws.
But with the election of President Donald Trump, a staunch proponent of cracking down on illegal immigration, Texas Republican leaders are hopeful they can eventually reduce the state’s financial burden.
So where does all that state money go? Texas law enforcement officials are not deporting people. That’s still the role of the federal government.
The money is largely flowing into the Texas Department of Public Safety, which purchases surveillance equipment and deploys State Troopers (highway patrolmen) to the border region. In fact, the goal was to add another 250 troopers to the border.
But lawmakers representing the border region are have complained that the troopers aren’t reducing drug and human trafficking, and are instead writing a whole lot of traffic tickets.
In fact, an investigation by KXAN News in 2016 found that only 6% of arrests were on felony drug charges, and only 1% were related to human smuggling. The vast majority of arrests were for traffic violations, particularly DWI’s.
Maybe smugglers have adopted more covert tactics. Maybe they’re moving through other states.
Maybe illegal immigration is just generally decreasing. President Trump announced this spring that apprehensions by border patrol are at a 17-year low.
The fundamental question for Texas budget-writers in 2019 is whether the DPS arrest data makes the effort worth the resource expenditure. They’ll certainly remember how 2017 presented a tight budget challenge.
But the reality is, illegal immigration is still happening in large – however reduced – numbers. And in 2016, voters demanded a secure border.
Unfortunately for the taxpayers and the politicians alike, elected officials appear to be totally befuddled about how to achieve it. And if the voters aren’t getting results, they’re probably more inclined to support an increase in security spending – not a cut.
A lot could depend on Trump’s success or failure in the next 18 months.
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