EDINBURG, RGV – State Rep. César J. Blanco slammed Republican legislators after they tried to get the Obama Administration to reimburse Texas for the money it has spent on border security.
At a news conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday, GOP state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Border Security, said an invoice to the federal government for $2.8 billion was warranted.
Blanco, D-El Paso, said Bonnen and other Republicans were playing politics.
“Yesterday, the Texas House Republicans’ press conference was just politics as usual,” Blanco said. “Last session Texas Republicans gave the Department of Public Safety a blank check with no strings attached in the name of ‘security’.”
Blanco said he was all for trying to “recoup some those misappropriated dollars that Republicans dished out to DPS to go on a hiring frenzy taking us closer to a police state.” However, Blanco pointed out that last session he argued there was “no accountability and no end-game or stated mission goal” as it related to the state GOP’s border security operation.
“Now DPS is requesting over $1 billion more for its border security surge. I think we need to pump the brakes. As stewards of taxpayer funds, we need to analyze what exactly are we paying for to justify spending these taxpayer dollars,” Blanco said.
“Yesterday’s press conference was just political theatre and one last ditch effort to take a jab at President Obama. The truth of the matter is that federal appropriations originate in Congress, which for several years has been under Republican control.”
Blanco said it is also not clear whether Texas Republicans will forward the $2.8 billion invoice to Donald Trump once he is sworn in as president of the United States.
“I am also offended when Members of the Texas House try to paint our border communities as a ‘lawless’ region. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This rhetoric also undermines our local law enforcement. Our border communities are consistently some of the safest and most vibrant communities in Texas and the Country. That’s a fact. If Republicans were concerned about public safety and addressing crime, they would appropriate dollars to other areas of the state with real and higher crime rates,” Blanco said, in a news release.
“I think this is a distraction from the real issues we face this session, such as restoring funding to the children’s Medicaid therapy program, adequately funding our public schools, fixing our broken CPS and foster care system, investing in mental health and substance abuse, and keeping our promise to our veterans and their families by continuing to fund Hazlewood.”
Blanco added: “Texas Republicans have thrown out their fiscal conservatism on this issue.”
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, echoed Rep. Blanco’s remarks.
“Texas’ border cities are vibrant, thriving communities with crime rates lower than those of Houston, Austin or Washington, D.C. The only thing the Texas ‘surge’ has achieved is to turn them into racially profiled, over-policed, over-militarized occupied territories that foment insecurity and fear in the hard-working people who live there,” Burke said.
“Rep. Bonnen and his colleagues wasted billions in taxpayer money on a bad idea and now they want that money back? This is another example of legislators’ misplaced priorities: spending money you don’t have on something you don’t need.”
In a news release issued Wednesday, Bonnen, R-Angleton, said “costs unfairly borne by Texas taxpayers as a result of Washington’s failure to secure the border” stand at $2.8 billion.
“Today we make one final request of the Obama Administration: do your constitutional duty and reimburse Texas for your failure to secure the border,” said Bonnen. “The drug epidemic, the growing sex trade and the surge in unaccompanied minors stem from a crisis of lawlessness on our southern border. For years, Texas has stood in the gap. With a new Administration coming into office, we hope the tide will turn and that the federal government will do its duty so that Texas no longer has to.”
Bonnen’s call is likely to go unanswered by the Obama administration because it never asked Texas to spend the money. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says Border Patrol is better staffed today than at any time in its 88-year history. He points out that along the Southwest border, DHS has increased the number of boots on the ground from approximately 9,100 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to more than 18,500 today.
In addition, Customs and Border Protection now screens 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for illegal weapons, drugs, and cash, has expanded Unmanned Aircraft System coverage to the entire Southwest border and has completed 651 miles of fencing.
Undocumented immigration attempts, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions, have decreased 53 percent in the past three years, and are less than one third of what they were at their peak, DHS pointes out. The agency says that over the past three years, DHS has seized 74 percent more currency, 41 percent more drugs, and 159 percent more weapons along the Southwest border as compared to fiscal years (FY) 2006-2008.
State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, says that is not enough.
“Texas is proud to have gone beyond the call of duty in defending America’s border, but we have done so at great cost to our taxpayers,” Parker said. “If the Obama Administration refuses to meet our request, we are hopeful President-elect Trump will give it due consideration so that we can make our communities, schools and hospitals whole.”
Bonnen and Parker gave a breakdown of the border security costs they say Texas has incurred since January, 2013. Here it is:
BORDER SECURITY OPERATIONS
Texas Department of Public Safety: $1,410,563,257
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department: $20,268,215
Texas Military Forces: $62,976,798
INCARCERATION OF CRIMINAL ALIENS
Texas Department of Criminal Justice: $463,278,833
County Jails: $265,563,826
Texas Health & Human Services Commission: $416,882,000
Texas Education Agency: $181,185,708
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission: $670,728
TOTAL KNOWN COSTS: $2,821,389,365
The Joint Committee on Border Security has ten members, five state senators and five state representatives. In addition to Bonnen, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, is a co-chair. Four border legislators sit on the joint committee: state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr, D-Brownsville, state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya, and Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass. The joint committee met three times in the interim.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows state Rep. César J. Blanco speaking at an event in Edinburg, Texas, last June. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor). Reporters Luis Montoya and Ron Whitlock contributed to this story from Austin, Texas.