Has the Juice Been Worth Squeezing on State Border Security Funding?

March 31, 2022
Jeramy Kitchen
Biden Administration, Border Security, Greg Abbott

One year into Operation Lone Star and many Texans are asking questions about the overall efficacy of the state’s current strategy in addressing the ongoing border security crisis.

Ultimately, the federal government has the responsibility of enforcing immigration laws. Texas shares a nearly 1,200-mile border with Mexico and recently, took unprecedented steps to bolster the border and preclude illegal crossings all on its own in the wake of the federal government doing near nothing to address it.

Despite this, illegal border crossings continue to rise at an alarming rate leaving many to ask whether the juice has been worth the squeeze and whether the strategy should be changed?

The short answer is… it’s complicated.

Most Recent Legislative Session

In the 87th legislative session, the legislature appropriated over $1 billion to border security operations. In September of 2021, during the second called special legislative session, the legislature passed House Bill 9, which among other things allocated a near additional $2 billion to border security over the course of two years, making the total state appropriations for the effort almost $3 billion, the most that have ever been appropriated for such purposes in Texas.

What’s more, is that the legislation included almost three-quarters of a billion dollars to continue construction on the border wall started under the Trump Administration. The Office of the Governor also set up a crowd-funding website which to date has reportedly raised over $55 million.

Operation Lone Star

 In the midst of having already received primary election challengers and the 87th legislative session, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced an unprecedented border security effort called ‘Operation Lone Star’ (OLS) in March of 2021.

OLS is a border security initiative purportedly aimed at curtailing an exponential rise in illegal border crossings taking place under the watch of the Biden Administration. Neither Texas National Guard service members nor the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) can enforce federal immigration laws. Instead, Abbott increased the penalties for trespassing under a disaster declaration administered in 2021 and in turn, directed DPS troopers to arrest the migrants for trespassing on private property.

At its launch, only 500 Texas National Guard service members were sent as a part of OLS. House Bill 9 provided the appropriations for an additional 1,800 service members whereupon its passage, Abbott directed 1,000 personnel from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and 400 additional Texas National Guard members to join in on the effort. In November 2021, OLS saw a large surge of personnel from both the Texas Army National Guard and DPS, bolstering the number to 10,000.

In January of this year, state appropriators moved nearly $500 million from money previously appropriated to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), and DPS to address the increase in the cost of additional personnel on OLS.

National Guard service members participating in OLS are tasked with helping in the arrests process of miscellaneous border-related crimes which include both human and drug smuggling.

According to an analysis done by the Texas Tribune, ProPublica, and The Marshall Project, OLS costs Texas taxpayers $2.5 million every week.

In recent months, reports have surfaced that OLS has been mired with issues ranging from lack of pay for the National Guard service members participating to suicides potentially linked to the work or lack thereof being conducted on the mission itself, with many suffering from low morale.

In mid-March, Abbott replaced the commander of the Texas Military Forces, Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris in the wake of growing criticism of her leadership and aforementioned issues.

A Shroud Around the Results

According to a press release by Abbott,

“Since the launch of OLS, multi-agency efforts have led to more than 208,000 migrant apprehensions, along with more than 11,800 charges for criminal offenses— including more than 9,300 felony charges. Members of notorious gangs like the Texas Chicano Brotherhood, Bloods, Mexican Mafia, MS-13, and others have been taken off the streets. DPS has arrested sex offenders, weapons traffickers, previously convicted and deported criminal immigrants, drug dealers, and other wanted criminals. In the fight against fentanyl, DPS has seized over 269 million lethal doses throughout the state.”

Of the many concerns raised in the aforementioned analysis, one is that the “state’s claim of success has been based on shifting metrics that included crimes with no connection to the border, work conducted by troopers stationed in targeted counties prior to the operation, and arrest and drug seizure efforts that do not clearly distinguish DPS’s role from that of other agencies.”

The analysis goes on to say, “A year into the initiative, Abbott, DPS, and the Texas Military Department have fought two dozen public records requests from the news organizations that would provide a clearer picture of the operation’s accomplishments.”

Recently, a growing number of Texas elected officials and candidates for office have voiced their concerns with the ongoing strategy to address illegal border activity. A few include:

Republican State Rep. Matt Schaefer (Tyler) took to Twitter recently to share his concerns.

Democrat gubernatorial challenger to Abbott, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke told the Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board,

“This is how an opportunistic politician panders for votes while spending billions in tax dollars and misleading the public about the return on investment. The lack of transparency and political posturing should trouble all Texans, as Abbott’s border operations will cost taxpayers $3 billion through 2023.”

At a hearing by the State Senate Committee on Border Security on March 8, Republican State Sen. Bob Hall (Edgewood) asked DPS Chief Col. Steve McCraw, “How do we know whether the amount of money was appropriate for what was needed?” Hall continued, “How do we know when we have accomplished what we set out to do… other than just appropriate more money and then wonder what to do next?”

Lack of Attention by Federal Government

Monday, Republican State Rep. Matt Krause (Haslet), Chairman of the House Committee on General Investigating, requested a legal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on “whether the federal government has failed to uphold its obligations to protect Texans from invasion under Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution and whether Texas has the sovereign power to defend itself from invasion.”

Reportedly, the Biden Administration is contemplating ending the process known as ‘Title 42’ in May of this year, which allows the U.S. to quickly deport illegal immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many lawmakers grow increasingly concerned that this would spurn an additional flood of immigrants across the border.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 164,973 migrant encounters on the Southwest border in February, which was a 7% increase over January.

Meanwhile, the Border Patrol Union indicated that March was the worst March in its history,

Ultimately, time will tell whether the unprecedented billions of dollars spent by the state has been fruitful or whether a shift in strategy is necessary both for the purposes of actually turning the tide on illegal immigration and saving taxpayer money along the way.