AUSTIN, Texas — The State of Texas is set to pull back the Texas National Guard from the Mexican border with claims of replacing them with state troopers and technology. Contrary to widespread belief, Texas leaders did not did not deploy the National Guard to the entire Texas border. The National Guard were only sent to the Rio Grande Valley sector, approximately 25.6 percent of the Texas border with Mexico.
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst announced the move on Wednesday. Addressing the media in a press conference at the Texas Capitol, Dewhurst said while the surge under Operation Strong Safety had been successful, the state needed to make sure that border security operations continued without interruption through the next Legislative Session, and expand to better cover the entire Texas border. This would necessitate drawing down the Texas National Guard and shifting their responsibilities to more cost-effective Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers, local law enforcement, technology, and, eventually, he hoped, the federal government would increase the U.S. Border Patrol presence on the border as well.
Approximately 1,000 National Guard troops are scheduled to leave the border in the Spring, and this funding plan will replace them with DPS. Dewhurst acknowledged that this was at least in part a financial consideration, as the National Guard personnel are more expensive on a per capita basis than DPS. The Army Times reported that Governor-elect Greg Abbott’s border plan involved sending an additional 500 DPS officers to the border, and this new funding plan could help cover the costs for that.
“I feel strongly that the federal government has an obligation to protect its citizens, and part of that job is to secure the borders,” said Dewhurst. But when the federal government fails, “a state has not only the right but it has the obligation to act independently of the federal government, in this case to secure the border.”
Dewhurst said that border security has long been a concern of his. In 2006, after he met with Texas’ Congressional delegation, he realized that “there was little chance” of the Obama administration adequately increasing the number of Border Patrol agents in a way that could actually secure the border. Texas had no choice but to act to protect its citizens.
Dewhurst described how the state had increased funding for DPS and local law enforcement efforts, spending over $800 million since 2007 on these border security efforts. The first surge under Operation Strong Safety began in September and October of 2013, deploying additional DPS officers, adding new technology like advanced infrared cameras on planes and armored gun boats.
After the crisis last summer with unaccompanied alien children (UACs) arriving mostly from Central America — a story that was broken by Breitbart Texas Managing Director Brandon Darby — an additional surge was ordered in June. The Texas National Guard was deployed on the border as a “force multiplier” with DPS, and their efforts resulted in about 6,600 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, an area that represents 56 percent of all the criminal activity on the border. According to Dewhurst, during the last week of October, the number of apprehensions dropped to 1,600, a 77 percent decrease. DPS also seized over 200,000 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of over $100,000, that the cartels were attempting to bring into the country.
“The surge is working, and it’s important that we keep it working,” said Dewhurst. However, the current funding is set to run out at the end of December. To prevent an interruption in operations, Dewhurst signed a proposal, along with Governor Rick Perry and Speaker Joe Straus that recommends that the Legislative Budget Board approve more than $86 million in funding to sustain border operations through the end of the fiscal year, which ends in August 2015, as Breitbart Texas reported.
The funding sources recommended to the LBB include disaster funds that would normally go to Texas military services, debt service to TxDOT that is expiring, bond service to the Texas military that is expiring, emerging technology funds, and disaster funds designated for Texas Parks and Wildlife Services. In an email to reporters after the press conference, Dewhurst’s Communications Director Andrew Barlow clarified the origin of some of these funds. According the Barlow, the debt service dollars are set aside at the beginning of the year to cover servicing the designated debts based on projected interest rates. Because interest rates remained low, there were funds left over that lapsed and then returned to the general revenue fund. Likewise, the disaster fund dollars are set aside at the beginning of the year, but since Texas was fortunately spared any major hurricanes or other natural disasters this year, funds were available to be used for this border security initiative.
Texas cannot “simply wait and let the new Legislature in January” handle this problem, said Dewhurst, mentioning how Obama had announced draw down dates for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “A lot of us, me included, felt that was a huge tactical mistake,” said Dewhurst, commenting that it just told terror groups to “circle the date on the calendar” when they can resume operations, and allowing Texas’ border surge to temporarily cease in December would present a similar invitation to the cartels.
The incoming Legislature is free to change, decrease or increase the funding or strategy for the border operations when they take over in January, Dewhurst noted, but he wanted “to make sure we are starting from a position of strength” and to be able to “leave them in a position where they have security.”
Dewhurst said that he shared a unified position with Perry, Straus, as well as Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick in supporting this plan, which had two objectives: first, to continue to protect the border, and second, to expand the area of activity beyond the Rio Grande Valley Sector. “We need to secure the border from Brownsville to El Paso,” Dewhurst stated several times.
Grassroots activists have been critical of not just the federal government’s approach to securing the border, but the state’s as well, as Breitbart Texas has reported. One of their chief concerns has been how surge efforts were focused only on the RGV Sector, leaving hundreds of miles of the border still vulnerable. This plan to increase border security efforts along the entire border will directly address this issue.
“Our goal, my goal, from day one has been to protect Texans,” said Dewhurst, “That’s my number one goal as an elected official.” While Dewhurst does hope at some point the “federal government wakes up” and decides to replace Texas’ activity, there have been too many violent crimes on the border — including over 3,000 murders — to wait for the federal government to step in.
The plan will wind down over time and utilize intelligence gathered from surge operations this past year regarding cartel travel patterns and strategies, which Dewhurst said would allow them to cover a greater area with the assets they have. Increased DPS and National Guard operations along the border, sometimes “literally within eyesight” of cartel stashhouses across the Mexican border, has provided invaluable information. Part of this wind down will involve the shifting of responsibilities from the Texas National Guard to DPS.
Dewhurst himself visited the border a few weeks ago, including taking a flight in a Lakota helicopter with the National Guard. The National Guardsmen, who are here from all over US, told Dewhurst “how proud they are” to be part of this effort, calling it the “most important thing they had done with their lives,” to provide this vital service protecting Americans. “The Texas National Guard is a formidable force,” said Dewhurst, and Texas is grateful for their service. The National Guard will continue to be a part of the mission.
Dewhurst would not disclose specific numbers or areas where personnel would be deployed, because that information would be helpful to the cartels. He did confirm that the plan would increase the number of boots on the ground.
He added that it was his hope that the new Congress under Republican control would send legislation to Obama’s desk to have border patrol replace the Texas National Guard and secure the border, but if not, Texas would keep funding this “deterrent force.”
“What’s the price to protect you and your family?” asked Dewhurst, reaffirming the state’s commitment to fund these operations. “There is no price. People want and deserve the right to be safe.”
Dewhurst acknowledged that there is not an end date in sight. “The cartels aren’t going to go home” he said. “They’re going to try to outlast us, just like al Qaeda.” Texas has no choice but to go and outlast them and stay until the federal government comes in.
Breitbart Texas asked Dewhurst if the surge would include areas like Brooks County that are not directly on the border but have still had problems from illegal border crossings, and he confirmed that it would. “We’re going to have a layered defense both with technology and people” that covers more area along the border and inland as well, said Dewhurst. Back in August, Dewhurst supported local law enforcement efforts in Brooks County with a personal donation of $4,000. The area is very rural and the local budget has suffered from the border crisis.
Regarding Obama’s plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants through an executive order this week, Dewhurst said that will “not materially affect” what Texas will do. He did, however, worry that people who were undecided may now decide to try to cross the border, which just increases the importance of Texas’ efforts. Dewhurst also added that Obama’s legal advisers seemed to be advancing his efforts to enact immigration reform by executive order by relying on the legal doctrine of “prosecutorial discretion” — where a prosecutor can decline to prosecute a case where justice so demands — but this was a “flawed theory,” meant for specific cases, not to grant amnesty to five million people at once.
Photo credit: Sarah Rumpf for Breitbart Texas.
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