SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – State Senator Dan Patrick, the frontrunner for lieutenant governor, discussed border security and human rights in a speech to border sheriffs.

Patrick, a Republican from Houston, said the human rights of undocumented immigrants were being denied because of the nation’s failure to address immigration reform.

“What is a human right? A human right is you should not have to go to any country in the back of an 18-wheeler. You should not have to go to any country and be sexually assaulted as part of the bounty to get here. You should not have to come to America and live in the shadows and not have dignity. You should not come to America and die when you are dropped off by the local coyote or whoever smuggled you across and left you to die,” Patrick said.

State Senator Dan Patrick, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West are pictured at a border sheriffs conference held on South Padre Island.
State Senator Dan Patrick, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West are pictured at a border sheriffs conference held on South Padre Island.

Patrick said the bodies of over 1,000 immigrants have been picked up in Texas over the past several years. “No one should be for that policy. But, that is what is going to continue until we do something (about border security). And, you are a big part of that something to craft a plan to do the best we can on law enforcement.”

Patrick spoke at a conference held jointly by the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition and the South West Border Sheriffs Coalition. The conference was held at the Isla Grand Beach Resort on South Padre Island. Among the sheriffs in attendance were Arvin West of Hudspeth County, Larry Spence of Willacy County, and Omar Lucio of Cameron County.

Patrick started his speech by stating that border sheriffs have forgotten more about criminal justice issues along the border and border security than anyone in Austin will ever know. “I don’t profess to be an expert but I understand and know that it is such a critical issue to our state and we have a lot of critical issues,” Patrick said.

Patrick then ran through some startling law enforcement statistics related to border security. From 2006 to 2012, he said, 1,132,000 undocumented immigrants were apprehended crossing the border into Texas. “We think we get one out of four or one out of five. That means four or five million got through,” Patrick said. From 2008 to 2012, in the 254 county jails across Texas, 141,000 “hardened criminals” identified as being in the country “illegally” were jailed, Patrick said. These were not people put inside for a couple of speeding tickets, he said, but those who had committed serious crimes. He said the 141,000 were charged with 447,000 crimes, including 5,000 rapes and 2,000 murders. Patrick said law enforcement agencies also calculate that there are 100,000 gang members in Texas that are in the country illegally.

Patrick acknowledged illegal immigration cannot be totally stopped. He did not mention the word “invasion” when talking about illegal immigration, as he has done at other times on the campaign trail but he did say that if elected lieutenant governor he plans to get the ratio of those apprehended for crossing the border illegally improved from 20 to 25 percent to 65 to 75 percent.  He said he would do this by listening to all interested parties and crafting a “coordinated plan” that will include input from border sheriffs. He said border sheriffs are on the front lines and deserve respect.

“I am very serious, as the next lieutenant governor, to get this done once and for all. We are never going to close it 100 percent but you know we can do a far superior job of closing the border than we have done so far,” Patrick said. “I have always believed that you are on the front lines and you are taking on a very dangerous assignment. I have heard the horror stories. I know the threats you have received. I know the intimidation. Quite frankly, I thank God you are here. You are out-gunned, you are out-manned; you are out-spent. Quite frankly, I am amazed that you keep signing up to do it again.”

Patrick told sheriffs he will be having a debate on border security and immigration with the mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, in a couple of weeks. He said Castro has accused him of being anti-immigrant. “I am the last anti anything you are going to meet. Crossing the border illegally is not an ethnicity issue, it is an illegal issue. It is a law enforcement issue. We need to understand as a nation that if you do not use your freedom to protect your freedom you will lose your freedom.”

Patrick noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on border security in recent years and that it made clear that the immigration policies enacted in states like Arizona are not valid because the policies are under the purview of the federal government. However, he said the Supreme Court has ruled that public safety is a state issue and his plans will be framed by a public safety perspective.

“So, we need to do everything possible to secure our border because if we do not then Washington will never do what they are supposed to do. And I am talking about the Republicans and the Democrats. Both parties for whatever reason, maybe they want cheap labor, maybe they think they are going to get future voters, who knows what their reason for foot-dragging is but there is a reason that both parties do nothing. And one of the reasons is, why do anything when we are getting all the people across the border we need or want?”

Patrick said securing the border will be a team effort with border sheriffs leading the effort on the ground. “You know who all is coming across and who the good guys are and the bad guys are. We can probably shut it down 65 percent to 75 percent and force Washington to finally deal with the issue. The best way to end illegal immigration is with legal immigration. We have to close the backdoor for them (Washington) to be forced to open the front door. And, as long as we don’t close the back door, we can talk about it all day long, we can talk about more Border Patrol and more efforts and more surges, as long as we don’t do it, they (Washington) will never do anything.”

Patrick said he had visited Brooks County last fall and learned that at that point in the year, 176 dead bodies had been picked up in the brush. “They did not have enough money to have an autopsy for everyone. They cannot try every case because you do not have enough money for your courts. You are not getting support for your jails. I would like to see funding on a year-round basis so that you have got the staffing, 24/7, 365, and not just here or there, this grant or that grant. I could not run a business that way. There are a lot of things we need to do.”

Patrick also said he had been learning about the so-called “Snare Program.” He explained this to be a border security policy whereby law enforcement falls back and catches people in the net. “Well, what happens to all those people, like Arvin said who live between where the net is and the border, which, you are responsible for protecting?” The ‘Arvin’ Patrick referred to is Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West.

Patrick added that he was not saying he could do everything the sheriffs want him to do. “But, I can honestly tell you this: I am going to listen, I am going to respect your experience and your judgment and your bravery; that you want to do the right thing. At the end of the day, hopefully, we can finally do what needs to be done and hasn’t be done, secure the border to the best of our ability to get Washington to finally act.”

Patrick also spoke about the race for lieutenant governor and his attempts at securing more funding for border security in the Senate. In the Republican Party primary, Patrick secured 42 percent of the vote while incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst picked up 28 percent. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson failed to make the runoff. The runoff election is eight weeks from now.

“While I am expecting, unfortunately, a nasty race we have stayed on the positive and we will continue to talk about public policy issues. We will prevail. We will survive. The latest polls have us up by 21 points, 55-34. But, never underestimate someone with an unlimited checkbook and the lieutenant governor has an unlimited checkbook. So, we are going to work hard,” Patrick said.

Patrick said running for lieutenant governor is the hardest thing he has ever done in my life. “I will be 64 next week. I am not doing this to be lieutenant governor or to run for something else. I am doing this to get the job done so that my three grandchildren have a great place to live and grow up and raise their families in Texas. We are at a crisis point. Not to mention the potential terrorist who would cross the border.” Patrick said he was asked by a passenger on a plane recently if a potential terrorist had ever crossed the border with a dirty bomb. He said nobody knows for sure.

“In one week in September, we apprehended 6,000 people crossing the border into Texas, which means another 20,000 or 25,000 got through. Of those 6,000, 2,200 were Other Than Mexicans. A lot from Central America but we arrested people from Nepal and Pakistan and China, Africa, from all over. A lot of those people are not coming here for a job. We have a lot of responsibility,” Patrick said.

“Heaven forbid a terrorist attacks a city in Texas or anywhere in this country and we trace them back to crossing your county or in our state. Bottom line, crossing that border with Mexico, Washington will close that border or whoever is president, Republican or Democrat, will be impeached. Let us not get to that point.”

Sheriff West asked Patrick whether, if he is elected lieutenant governor, the sheriff’s coalition could meet with him and some state senators to talk about securing funding directly for the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition without having to go through the local Council of Governments.  Patrick responded that he plans to listen to all perspectives in order to reach consensus.

Patrick was also asked if he could attend a Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition meeting along the border next January, which is when the Legislature next meets. Patrick said if his schedule allows, he would be there.

“People were shocked that I got 42 percent in the first round and Dewhurst got 28. Everyone thought either Todd Staples or myself would be in the runoff, that probably Dewhurst would be at 40 percent and that either Todd or I would be in the high 20s. But again it was 42, 28, 18, 12, Jerry finished fourth. I ran on three key issues. One was border security. Two was reducing property taxes so that people can afford to live in their homes, appraisals all across the state are skyrocketing, even if you pay off your home you cannot afford to live in it. Three was education, continuing the reforms. I put myself on the line to make securing the border a priority. And, it will be a priority, more funding than we have ever had.”

Patrick then pointed out that when he got to the Senate in 2007 the initial budget had zero dollars for border security. He said he and two other senators caused a ruckus and a “paltry” $200 million was appropriated. He said that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst likes to “brag” about getting $800 million for border security but pointed out that was since 2008 and that it was part of a total budget of $800 billion. “$800 million is nothing. It (border security) is going to be a high priority.” However, he explained to the sheriffs that with more freedom and more money, comes more accountability. “We have got to get the job done,” he said.

Patrick concluded his remarks but asking for the support of the border sheriffs, although he realized most are from another political party. Patrick planned to stay at the conference for the dinner on Tuesday evening and the breakfast Wednesday morning. He said he wanted to hear as many stories as possible from border sheriffs on what is happening in their counties.

<I>Editor’s Note: Mario Muñoz of Rio Grande Valley Public Radio 88 FM assisted on this story.</I>