McALLEN, RGV – State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and the Texas Civil Rights Project differ sharply over the value of a $1.3 million-per-day border surge operation being conducted by the Department of Public Safety.

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Joe Straus announced Tuesday that increased law enforcement would be provided by DPS along the Texas-Mexico border in order to “combat the flood of illegal immigration into the state in the absence of adequate federal resources to secure the border.”

According to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, 48,000 undocumented immigrants were caught by Border Patrol on Texas-Mexico border in the month of May alone. Of these, 20 percent were unaccompanied minors. In the Rio Grande Valley, Border Patrol has been detaining immigrant families from Central American countries for a few days and then releasing them at bus terminals in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen.

Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington said deploying more DPS troopers on the border was a “typical militaristic response” by the state leadership. “Perry shouldn’t make them (undocumented children) pawns in his ongoing politically-driven antipathy toward the federal government,” Harrington said.

Harrington noted that Perry has not offered any assistance for the children who are already here or to local shelters that are struggling to house and care for them. Among those providing shelters, clothing, food and water for immigrants is Catholic Charities RGV. UT-Pan American will start collecting toiletries and other basic needs supplies for undocumented immigrants on Friday, June 20

James Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
James Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

“Obviously, it’s important to protect the border. But it’s equally important to protect and provide for the thousands of children who are now in the country. Texas and the border states can come up with more creative ways to deal with the crisis and turning it around. It would be a better and more productive use of taxpayers’ money,” said Harrington.

“We’re dealing with young children, not adults. This is not the children’s fault, and we have a humanitarian duty to them until we can figure out how to respond appropriately to the situation. They should not be victimized further by the situation into which they have been thrust by desperate parents.”

Hinojosa, who chairs the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, claimed that in the last few weeks the Valley has experienced a “humanitarian crisis” as a surge of children and families from Central America have “overwhelmed” border communities.

“The thousands of immigrants being detained in border patrol facilities and makeshift shelters in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions has incited concerns and a critical sense of urgency to respond to this unfortunate situation,” Hinojosa.

The McAllen Democrat noted that, ultimately, border security is a federal responsibility, not a state one. However, he said it is a humanitarian issue and one that border residents have to manage. “We need to ensure the safety of our citizens, support the strained resources of our local law enforcement, and protect the public health. Our local public officials are coordinating efforts to respond to the basic humanitarian needs of the influx of immigrant children and families,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa said the purpose of Perry’s deployment of more DPS troopers along border was to focus on gaps in security. He said gaps were emerging because federal agents are being overwhelmed due to a large number of immigrants. He said the deployment of DPS will ensure “drug smugglers and human traffickers do not take advantage of this situation.”

Hinojosa added that DPS will not be conducting traffic checkpoints and will not be involved in immigration enforcement. “Ultimately, the safety and security of our families in the Valley is of the utmost importance and these DPS funds are helping to address our concerns,” Hinojosa said.

In his statement announcing the DPS surge operation, Perry said Texas “can’t afford to wait for Washington to act on this crisis.” He said the State of Texas “will not sit idly by while the safety and security of our citizens are threatened,” adding that until the federal government recognizes the danger it’s putting Texas citizens in by its inaction to secure the border, “Texas law enforcement must do everything they can to keep our citizens and communities safe.”

Perry, Dewhurst and Straus sent a joint letter to DPS Director Steve McCraw authorizing DPS to “conduct law enforcement surge operations using any funds appropriated to the agency.” They state leaders said the surge operations will continue at least through the end of the calendar year. DPS must periodically report the results of the law enforcement surge to the governor and the legislature, Perry’s press statement said.

“The federal government has abdicated its responsibility to secure the border and protect this country from the consequences of illegal immigration, but as Texans we know how to lead in areas where Washington has failed,” Dewhurst said. “Last year DPS conducted Operation Strong Safety and achieved astounding results. Crime rates related to drugs, cartels, transnational gangs, and illegal border activity plummeted because of the resources we allocated to stop illegal entry at the border. It’s time to make this type of presence on the border permanent.”

Dewhurst pointed out that Border Patrol has apprehended more undocumented immigrants in the Valley in the first eight months of the current federal fiscal year (over 160,000) than it did for all of fiscal year 2013 (154,453). In May 2014 alone, Border Patrol reported apprehending more than 1,100 undocumented immigrants per day in the Valley. This year, like last year, more than half of the individuals apprehended at the Texas-Mexico border by Border Patrol are from countries other than Mexico, according to a joint news release by Perry, Dewhurst and Straus.  Additionally, 34,000 unaccompanied alien children (UAC) have been apprehended in Texas so far this year, with estimates that number will reach 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year. By comparison, 28,352 UAC were apprehended in fiscal year 2013, the state leaders said.

“In this current security and humanitarian crisis, the federal government’s failure to secure our border is resulting in serious consequences for Texas,” Speaker Straus said. “To immediately address these issues, today I join with Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to direct the Texas Department of Public Safety to use the appropriate resources to keep our state safe.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he backs the actions of Perry, Dewhurst and Straus.

“Texas is stepping up and doing what the federal government has failed to do – secure the porous border,” Abbott said. “The Obama Administration’s failure to enforce the rule of law has empowered transnational gangs and cartels to smuggle people into our state from around the world — including members of deadly gangs like MS-13.”

Abbott said DPS will “have the tools and resources it needs” to curtail illegal smuggling, horrific human trafficking and cartel imported crime. “Securing the border will reduce the illegal activity which – in turn – will promote the legitimate trade that helps make Texas the leading exporting state in the country,” Abbott said.