RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – Developing one gigabyte broadband infrastructure through the ranch lands between Port Mansfield and the two international bridges in Starr County is important to homeland security.

The two land ports of entry in Starr County are the Roma-Ciudad Miguel Alemán International Bridge and the Starr-Camargo International Bridge in Rio Grande City.

The idea gained traction by the two leaders that bookend the project, Port Mansfield Director Ron Mills, and Starr County Judge Eloy Vera. It was reinforced by Stacy Forbes, a Marine Corps veteran and retired federal law enforcement officer, border security and U.S.-Mexico trade subject matter expert. Forbes spent more than five years assigned to a U.S. Congress member’s office as senior policy advisor.

“Full broadband coverage in South Texas will be extremely beneficial to the Department of Homeland Security’s mission. Most every piece of their technology requires broadband in order to be effective,” Forbes told Ron Whitlock Reports

The idea is gaining traction among state leaders as they gather in Austin to beef up border security during the 88th legislative session. I posed the following question to Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Ryan Guillen at a news conference on border security, held recently at the Texas Department of Public Safety offices in Weslaco:

“Governor Abbott, on the way over here, I talked to Stacy Forbes, who I’m sure you have worked with when he was assistant chief of DHS during Trump Administration about a project that I’m going to bring up, to you, Governor, and to you Ryan, if you wouldn’t mind?

“Do you both consider, as a priority, funding a Homeland Security Broadband Service, beginning at Port Mansfield and ending at the two land bridges in Rio Grande City and Roma?

“This is basically a broadband service that would run equidistant between the Rio Grande River and the checkpoints, in what is kind of like No Man’s Land.

“Stacy Forbes says this 100 percent needs to be done.

“Could you, Governor, and you, Chairman Ryan, get this funded, as a priority before the next session? We need it now, as a priority for Port Mansfield and all the the economy that port is transforming in Willacy County, and moving over to Starr County. It fits in, not only as part of homeland security, but also economic development.

“Could you help us, Governor and Chairman Guillen?”

Gov. Abbott responded: “What we have looked at and are working on are several issues along those lines that improve communications, especially among law enforcement, in these areas, as well as transportation. So, the two things that we would look at would be enhancing communication capabilities for law enforcement, and then also improving transportation capabilities such as building roads along either fence lines, water lines or other areas that will make it easier for law enforcement to get through there. And then a third would be to do more to eradicate Carrizo cane. And so we’re working on all those issues. Those are issues that are probably… the legislators, I know they’re working on at least several of those issues and maybe more.”

Rep. Guillen, who represents Starr County, responded: “It’s certainly something that is interesting and I’d like to see the details on. We will work with you, Ron, here in the near future, on understanding what the project is and the scope of it and see what we can do to help you.”

Not content with securing this support, I also pitched the project to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator, when he hosted a news conference on border security at Anzalduas State Park in Mission. He was joined by five Republican senators from other states.

Here was my question:

“Senator Corny, U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, in a bipartisan way, came up with some money to dredge the Port Mansfield ship channel and now the state has matched that. So over the last 18 months, the Port of Port Mansfield has become an emerging water port. 

“The problem is this emerging sea port collaborates with the inland land ports of Roma and Rio Grande City. We need and Governor Abbott agrees – in my conversation a few days ago with him – that we need a border security, homeland security, broadband service between this river and the checkpoints. It’s a no man’s land in the middle. So thanks to you for the money for dredging. Now we have got all of this commerce going back and forth. 

“So, we need border broadband for homeland security. Homeland Security on the federal side needs it, DPS and Emergency Management needs it on the state side. We also need FM radio along that middle point, that no man’s land between the river and the checkpoints. What can you and your five senators do to help?”

Sen. Cornyn responded: “I’m glad we were able to help some but the sad fact is the state and the local governments are having to fill those (border security) gaps caused by the failure of the federal government, which is not doing its job. And, yes, we need more infrastructure. Yes, we need more boots on the ground. Yes, we need better technology. This is a federal issue because it is a national issue, not just for the border communities here in the state of Texas. I am grateful to the Department of Public Safety, to the Texas National Guard and to Governor Abbott and the state leadership for filling the gap left by the failures of the (Biden) administration. But in the meantime we will try to do the best we can.”

The push to secure the funding for high-speed broadband infrastructure between the ports in Willacy and Starr counties continues.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by South Texas public policy advocate and governmental affairs consultant Ron Whitlock. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Whitlock can be reached by email via: [email protected]