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Is Texas spending $800M to create its own border patrol?

June 16, 2015

MCALLEN, Texas (AP) — When former Gov. Rick Perry ordered a big reinforcement of security at the Mexico border in 2011, Texas bought six new gunboats that can fire 900 rounds a minute and clock highway speeds. But the boats, which cost $580,000 each, spent more time docked than patrolling the Rio Grande.

That was a small price tag compared with what Texas is about to spend. The new Republican governor, Greg Abbott, this month approved $800 million for border security over the next two years — more than double any similar period during Perry’s 14 years in office.

On Texas’ shopping list is a second $7.5 million high-altitude plane to scan the border, a new border crime data center, a 5,000-acre (2,023.47-million hectare) training facility for border law-enforcement agencies and grants for year-round helicopter flights. The state also wants to hire two dozen Texas Rangers to investigate public corruption along the border and 250 new state troopers as a down payment on a permanent force along the border.

Other states along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,218.54-million kilometer) Southwest border — New Mexico, Arizona and California — do not come remotely close to the resources Texas has committed. And Texas is doing so long after last year’s surge in undocumented immigrants crossing the border has subsided.

So why is Texas setting up what appears to be a parallel border patrol alongside the federal force?

“Google ‘cartel crime in Mexico’ and just put a time period of the last week, and you’ll see some dramatic instances of what the cartels are doing in Mexico right now,” Abbott told reporters this month following the legislative session. “The first obligation of government is to keep people safe and that means ensuring that this ongoing cartel activity, which is not abating whatsoever, gains no root at all in the state of Texas.”

The 320-mile (515-million kilometer) Rio Grande Valley sector of the border was ground zero last year for a wave of Central American migrants, mostly unaccompanied minors and women with children. The Valley sector accounted for 53 percent of all migrants captured in the Southwest during the fiscal year ending September.

That alarmed Texas Republicans, who called for a crackdown during the election campaign last year. But the number of migrants caught is down 44 percent in the first eight months of this fiscal year.

Raul Ortiz, deputy chief of the federal border patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, attributed the decrease mainly to beefed-up law enforcement on the Mexican side, especially along its own borders with Central America. He also gave a nod to the Texas Department of Public Safety, or DPS, and other law enforcement for helping.

Critics worry that the border buildup is open-ended, with little accounting for how the money will be spent and whether it will be effective.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber.

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