Audit the ‘border surge’ before expanding it

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents patrol along the Rio Grande on the Texas-Mexico border near Rio Grande City.

by Dallas Morning News

Texas is a big state with limited policing resources. Flooding the border area with law enforcers and Texas National Guard troops to crack down on immigration-related crime might sound like a good idea, but before state legislators make any final decisions, they should first make sure the costs don’t outweigh the benefits.

House and Senate border-security measures under consideration carry two-year price tags of $565 million to $815 million. Before a final package goes up for a vote, legislators owe Texas taxpayers a full accounting of the current “border surge” to evaluate its cost effectiveness — as well as the consequences suffered by other parts of the state.

A partial Dallas Morning News review of state police data suggests the deployment of hundreds of law enforcers to the border area starting in June accompanied a notable decline in police oversight elsewhere. As staff writer Tom Benning reported, there was a 12 to 25 percent drop-off in citations, arrests and investigations by the state Highway Patrol, Texas Rangers and Department of Public Safety in the two-thirds of the state beyond the border zone.

A DPS report in February acknowledged that the department was “understaffed throughout the state” and that the border deployment had reduced patrol and investigative capacities in other areas.

“The truth is, the rest of Texas is just a tad bit less safe,” says Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who authored a bill to ease back the financial throttle on the state’s effort.

State police have authority to make arrests when they identify individuals involved in illegal activity such as human smuggling or drug transport. National Guard troops have no enforcement authority. It’s unclear what effect, if any, last year’s deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops has had. That’s why an audit of the $102 million spent so far is crucial to determining the benefit of spending hundreds of millions more.

Regardless of how people feel about illegal immigration, the smuggling groups that exploit migrants and profit off the drug trade must be stopped. All Texans benefit when federal and state authorities team up to arrest those involved in organized crime.

Too much of the debate on enforcement measures, however, has focused on emotion-driven, get-tough demonstrations of political resolve to crack down on illegal immigration. The drive to fill the gaps in federal border enforcement must not blind lawmakers in Austin to the fact that lawbreakers in other parts of the state could be walking free as a result.

What’s needed first is an audit that shows with cold, hard data whether the current border surge has significantly affected border security. Texans should require their elected representatives to vote with demonstrable results, not emotions, as the bottom-line measure.

The nonborder deficit

Sending hundreds of state police to help enforce the border meant calling many away from their normal duties elsewhere. The negative effects in nonborder areas included:

14% decline in Texas Highway Patrol citations

12% drop in Department of Public Safety arrests

13% fewer DPS investigations

25% fewer arrests by Texas Rangers