I recently joined Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and United States Congressman Louie Gohmert, along with a small group of Texas House colleagues, to tour the Texas border along the Rio Grande River. In advance of our inspection of the border, we had the opportunity to hear from representatives of the U.S. Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Public Safety as well as local law enforcement.
The purpose of our visit was to learn more about implementation of the recently announced increased border security plan. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is partnering with local law enforcement in a combined effort that will spend $1.3 million per week to put additional boots on the ground. This is a continuation of an operation called “Strong Safety.” We know that this operation will put a significant hurt on the drug cartels but what effect it will have on illegal immigration remains to be seen.
According to DPS Director McCraw, the estimated numbers of illegal aliens who have crossed the Texas border range from as low as 154,000 to as high as 184,000 year-to-date with a projected 240,000 individuals for the year in the Rio Grande Valley region alone. Eighty percent of these illegal aliens come from countries other than Mexico (OTM), predominantly Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. A shocking number of these illegal aliens are unaccompanied alien children (UAC).
Once an illegal alien is apprehended at the border, he/she is turned over to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and then released to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be transferred to a facility somewhere in the U.S. Once the illegal alien is screened and released from the facility, he/she is asked to report back in fifteen days. Based on what I’ve heard so far, there is no credible way to screen someone from these countries for prior criminal activity or for vaccinations before they are released into our communities.
In 2009, according to El Paso Health District Director Dr. Laurence Nickey, “contagious diseases that are generally considered to have been controlled in the United States are readily evident along the border. Tuberculosis in El Paso County is twice that of the U.S. rate.” Dr. Nickey also stated that leprosy was readily evident along the U.S. -Mexico border.
During my trip down the Rio Grande on a DPS gunboat, I witnessed a stark contrast in how differently people on the other side of the border perceive the U.S. Border Patrol versus the Texas DPS. My observation was that the U.S. Border Patrol appears to have little to no deterrent effect for people entering illegally while Texas DPS is a significant deterrent. Again, the increase in border control security is an important first step but it will remain to be seen as to how effective it will be to stopping the continued flow of illegal aliens.
With regard to this surge, it is disappointing that Texas House Speaker Joe Straus dragged his feet and only approved this initiative after a public outcry, and increased media attention on the border crisis, forced his hand. Texans are growing increasingly impatient with Texas leaders who will not address Texas’ open and perilous borders.
This surge is only the first step to secure our border but it is an important one. It’s a step the Obama Administration should have taken day one. At the very least, it’s a step they should have taken back in January when the Administration was looking to hire escorts in anticipation of 65,000 kids pouring across the border.
My trip to the border was eye-opening and a sobering reminder that we have much work to do to reclaim our sovereignty. My respect grew for those brave men and women who serve us along the border in an often thankless task which puts their lives at risks. We are asking them to conduct a mission with less than the full resources and support they need and with their hands tied behind their backs. Frankly, they – and the people of Texas – deserve better.
Steve Toth is a Republican State Representative from House District 15 representing The Woodlands, Texas and surrounding communities. He is also a candidate for the Texas Senate for District 4 which stretches from Montgomery County east to Beaumont. The runoff election for that race is scheduled for August 5, 2014. Early voting begins on Monday, July 28 and ends on Friday, August 1.