McALLEN, RGV – State Rep. Ryan Guillen, generally regarded as one of the more conservative Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives, has slammed the state’s new $800 million border security package as a “huge waste of money.”

State lawmakers steered much of the $800 million to the Department of Public Safety. At a McAllen Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Guillen said there would be little oversight on how that money would be spent.

State Rep. Ryan Guillen
State Rep. Ryan Guillen

Guillen’s comments coincided with a Dallas Morning News story which said that DPS Director Steve McCraw and 56 agency executives would be getting double-digit pay raises, with most increases reaching 17 percent. Click here to read the DMN story.

Guillen said the organizers of the 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon had asked that he speak about those issues where the Valley legislative delegation, which is all Democratic, can work with the Republican majority in the legislature. Guillen said the Valley delegation can work with Republicans on most issues and a better question would be what issues the local delegation cannot work with Republicans on. One example he gave was border security.

“Let’s start with border security. We worked with them on it but we kind of held back and took a few million dollars for this and that as a consolation prize. But, by and large it is a big waste of money, this $800 million we spent. It is a huge, huge, waste of money and everybody knows it. Coming up with something that is smarter, smarter border security, that is what we tried to work with them on. I don’t think we got there,” Guillen said.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa

The Rio Grande City Democrat said he is not sure Democrats will be able to work with Republicans on border security in a meaningful way all the time it is a hot political issue.

“There was a big push to see outcome out of that money, to see some kind of a positive outcome, tell us what we are going to get for our money. There was no answer to that as we finished session. There will be no answer. We spent $800 million in border security. I think if $2 billion had been asked for, or $3 billion had been asked for, or $5 billion had been asked for, they would have got it. That was that one issue (where we could not work with Republicans)… It didn’t matter what the price tag was, it was going to happen. I just believe we have got to be smarter about how we spend our money. There has got to be a better way.”

Guillen could have said but didn’t that border security is a federal issue and that therefore Texas taxpayers are paying twice. He did include border security as one of the reasons the Rio Grande Valley faces a public relations challenge.

“Reality is not reality, necessarily. Perception is reality. One of the biggest challenges we have going forward is the violence in Mexico, the corruption that you see in the media, the big effort in border security that the state is making and that the feds are making and the perception that the Valley is not a great place to be because of that,” Guillen said.

“I think that is one of the greatest challenges we must overcome. I am not a big fan of the border security structure. I made it very well known during the session but that is one of the red meat issues, probably the biggest red meat issue of the session, I think. So, we have to deal with these things. I just saw another report on corruption, on one of the national shows in the Valley. I cringe when I say this but I think that if you scrutinize any other part of the country as much you scrutinize the Valley you find just as much corruption. We are the recipient of it, nonetheless, and that is one of our biggest challenges. We have got to overcome that.”

Other Valley legislators to speak at the McAllen Chamber event were state Sen. Juan Hinojosa and state Reps. Sergio Muñoz, R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra, Terry Canales, and Oscar Longoria. Of these, only Hinojosa and Longoria spoke about border security, perhaps because, as members of their respective chambers’ finance panels, they helped find $800 million for border security.

In his remarks, Hinojosa said that while border security is a big issue, the Valley is often times used as a “whipping boy” by those who want to “demagogue” the region, rather than come up with viable solutions. Hinojosa said the border security bill was fashioned by the Republican leadership with the help of border lawmakers. He said that slowly but surely the border region is becoming “un-militarized” thanks to the withdrawal of the National Guard.  In its place, Hinojosa said, will be more civilian law enforcement agencies.

State Rep. Oscar Longoria
State Rep. Oscar Longoria

“We increased our game wardens, 19 new game wardens along border. They know all the back roads, they know all the canals and rivers, and all the ranches and farms. It is very important for us in terms of human trafficking and drug trafficking. For many years we received complaints about the DPS. DPS has about 250 vacancies. It has hard to fill those vacancies. But for us we wanted something more than DPS, we wanted law enforcement that could investigate criminals, crime and public corruption. So, we created a Texas Rangers company of 22 new rangers that will be stationed along the border. Keep in mind that when you read about the 250 additional DPS officers, they are not stationed permanently in the Valley. The needs are so great in our state. We have such a big state, we are growing so fast that they are not tied by statute to the Valley.”

Hinojosa added that the Valley delegation secured $10.4 million for a mega DPS licensing center to be built just north of Edinburg and $1.8 million for a law enforcement training center to be built and operated in south Pharr by South Texas College.  He said the state budget also includes $3 million for a first responders’ center north of Edinburg.

In his remarks, Rep. Longoria said he does not think spending $800 million a biennium on border security is sustainable going forward. He predicted that revenues the state receives from the oil and gas industries will reduce because of the drop in energy prices.  “I think we have all seen the market. Eight hundred million dollar was appropriated. Clearly we cannot sustain that.”

Longoria did say the state of Texas is, through border security, making an investment in the border. “They are putting more DPS troopers (on the border). They are trying to make an impact and secure this whole area.”

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian after his speech, Longoria said: “We are going to find out next session how successful they have been with this $800 we are spending on border security. We will be able to evaluate how successful DPS is with the proper funding. We are putting a lot of money into infrastructure and development. The small municipalities have told me that they support the money being spent on border security because it relieves a lot of pressure on them. We have got this transnational intelligence center that will be hub for information. This will benefit our local sheriff and law enforcement. There were a lot of positive things. The question is when we go back into session, how much progress was made and how much funding needs to be put into this to sustain the program? Because I do not anticipate that we will put $800 million into it next go round. I think there is going to be a budget shortfall and we are going to have to really count our pennies. I do not think the $800 million will be there.”

Editor’s Note: The main picture accompanying this story shows Rio Grande Valley legislators and VIPs at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap Up Luncheon. State Rep. Ryan Guillen is pictured far left. (Photo: RGG/Mark Montemayor)

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on border security. Parts Two and Three will be posted in the coming days.