AUSTIN, Texas – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick chose Rio Grande Valley Day at the state Capitol to announce he wants the National Guard to stay on the Texas-Mexico border.

While Patrick was holding a news conference on the issue, Valley leaders were distributing an RGV legislative agenda brochure which stated: “The National Guard deployment has not worked and has wasted valuable resources.”

McAllen Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius: National Guard deployment on the Texas-Mexico border has not worked.
McAllen Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius: National Guard deployment on the Texas-Mexico border has not worked.

At a luncheon for RGV Day at the Sheraton Hotel, McAllen Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius asked those in the audience if there were any other messages, in addition to the brochure, that legislators should hear from the Valley. The hand of state Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, shot up. “All of you should tell them the Valley is not a war zone,” Oliveira said.

Asked by the Rio Grande Guardian after the luncheon why he implored those who had come up from the Valley for RGV Day to present the message that the border region is not a war zone, Oliveira said: “In the Speaker’s race, the Speaker’s opponent made that a declaration (that the border region is a war zone) and frankly I am fed up with it. We are not a war zone. We love the Valley. We raise our children in the Valley. We go to church in the Valley. We work hard. People go to school. It is a great place to live. I am really tired of people casting us in a negative light for their own political ambitions or their own political agenda. The Valley should not be a whipping boy for anybody.”

Oliveira said the Valley needs help with border security. “But, don’t be using us in a way that castigates the entire Valley. We are trying to attract Fortune 500 companies. We are trying to invite people to raise their children, to come to work in the Valley. We are trying to build a medical school. We are not a war zone. It is offensive and we need to tell people we are offended by that.”

Asked what he thought of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s proposal, Oliveira said: “I have always disagreed with the placement of National Guard troops on the border. The militarization of the border is ridiculous. It is sending a wrong message. What we need to do is work with local law enforcement and state law enforcement. That is what we need to focus on. Sending National Guard troops sends a very bad message all around the country, all around the world and it is unnecessary. We have wasted tens of millions of dollars on it already and I consider it an additional waste of money.”

McAllen Chamber President Ahlenius worked on the border security and immigration aspect of the RGV’s legislative agenda. In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Ahlenius said: “The big challenge for us is we don’t think sending the National Guard has worked. We think that is a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Ahlenius said Valley leaders were providing state leaders with alternative suggestions to the deployment of the National Guard on the border.

“We would like to see an additional Texas Rangers battalion or unit down here, to have more investigators. We would like to see an expanded role for DPS. If they are going to come they need to be in the community so they get to know the culture, the rhythm, the timing of the community. We feel that is real important. I think they need to think about funding other things, like drones out of the Valley, I think they need to look at the cyber-crime units being housed out of the Valley,” Ahlenius said.

“So, we think it should be a huge investment in terms of law enforcement that the state makes into the region, as opposed to parachuting folks (National Guard troops) in for two or three days or a week and then sending them back out. We think there is an opportunity to come with some things that will address security issues.”

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia participated in RGV Day at the state Capitol. Asked what he thought of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s National Guard proposals, Garcia said: “It makes no sense to have the National Guard on the border. They are trained for military purposes and not law enforcement. We need more money spent on local law enforcement. Our DPS, our Sheriff’s Office, not the National Guard. It sends the wrong message. It makes us look like a militarized area and we are not.”

One Valley legislator who offered a degree of support to Patrick on the National Guard issue was state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville. In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Lucio said: “I like the National Guard if it is for fighting criminal activity. I would like to find out how much drugs are going by because we do not have enough personnel on the job. I would like to find out how much human trafficking or criminal activity is going on. I personally feel that the people as a whole are okay with the National Guard or law enforcement agencies that are beefed up by the state or federal government.”

Lucio argued that National Guard troops are trained men and women who can address organized criminal activity.

State Rep. René Oliveira and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, both of Brownsville, have different opinions about deploying the National Guard on the border.
State Rep. René Oliveira and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, both of Brownsville, have different opinions about deploying the National Guard on the border.

“If they are trained and prepared, it would be a good thing (to have the National Guard on the border). I would not want to see the National Guard be involved in immigration issues. I do not think that is something the public along the border would like to see that happen.”

Lucio said the Valley is a great place to live and work. “We have a wonderful community. We are blessed. Life is as usual in most parts of the Valley. There is a buffer zone between the fence and the Rio Grande River that causes great concern to me – the people who live there, that have businesses there; that own property there. It has been an incredible injustice for the federal government to build a wall. The river is our international boundary.”

Lucio added that he is going to study the issue of the National Guard being on the border carefully.

“I want to make sure that if we need to beef up personnel or need assistance to combat organized criminal activities then we should obviously utilize the resources available to us through the National Guard. I think that is the view of many people. They want a secure border. We must not turn our backs on something that might do us all a little bit better.”

Click here to read the Associated Press story on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s press conference on National Guard deployment.