AUSTIN, Texas – Some state leaders and legislators want the National Guard to stay on the border while others prefer to more fully utilize DPS, Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Rangers.
The Texas Border Coalition, which represents cities and counties from El Paso to South Padre Island, has a completely different stance altogether. It does not support state funding for border security and says state leaders need to recognize it is the responsibility of the federal government.
In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Monica Weisberg-Stewart, TBC’s committee chair for immigration and border security, was critical of a lot of the ideas currently under consideration at the state Capitol.
“Keeping the National Guard on the border? We do not believe the best use of state funding. We still believe that border security is the job of the state government. It is not the National Guard’s job. It is $12 million we do not have. It could be put to better use someplace else,” said Weisberg-Stewart.
The $12 million figure Weisberg-Stewart quotes is the additional amount it would cost to have the National Guard extend its border stay from March to May.
Weisberg-Stewart was similarly skeptical of a proposal to build a Department of Public Safety training academy in the Valley.
“Border security is not the job of DPS. They are not the Texas Border Patrol. Their job is not to be a Border Patrol agent, nor do they have the state laws to back them up and allow them to be a Texas Border Patrol,” Weisberg-Stewart said. “They are here to keep the area safe. Our local police departments better understand this region and if you talk to our police chiefs they will tell you we need more investigators in order to really combat the issues with the gangs and the cartels.”
And what about legislative proposals to put have Parks and Wildlife game wardens patrol the Rio Grande in armored boats?
“You get all these boats, you get all these items, you have to maintain those items, you have got to put the manpower inside these items and then what is the specific goal? That is where the problem arises. When you have a specific goal in mind you are able to measure it with empirical evidence and see a clear return on investment. That is what we need, instead of throwing money down the drain,” Weisberg-Stewart said.
Weisberg-Stewart is hoping the TBC’s stance on border security can gain traction with those lawmakers concerned about state dollars being invested wisely. She said when it comes to state resources being spent on the border there is insufficient accountability or responsibility. Weisberg-Stewart said she was in agreement with those who claim that if there is a spike in undocumented immigrants crossing the border, state leaders say the federal government is not doing its job, yet if there is a spike in apprehensions of undocumented immigrants or drugs, DPS claims credit.
“There is not enough accountability with DPS. You cannot win. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection are the ones on the front line. We need to be working with them,” Weisberg-Stewart said. “Until we fully fund the people who are working between the ports of entry, those are our men and women in green, and the people who are working at the ports of entry, those are our men and women in blue, we are not going to succeed at this. Until Washington actually really works on that immigration law and fixes our broken immigration laws we are not going to have border security.”
Asked to be elaborate on her concerns with the National Guard being deployed on the border, Weisberg-Stewart said: “The National Guard at this point is used only as a support service. They are not trained to be on the border and that is not their purpose. If we are talking about these people from Central America coming over here the National Guard is not going to make a difference. And neither is DPS until the federal government changes the law and allows them to get involved. We are kind of missing the point on what is being done and we are trying to showcase and make it appear we are doing something for border security when we are not. My question is what are we really doing to solve the problem?”
Weisberg-Stewart said she wished more statewide leaders and legislators would get behind efforts at the federal level to draw down more border security funding. She said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar deserve support for their efforts to get more funding for the Operation Stonegarden program.
“We believe that we can use federal dollars coming down here, such as Stonegarden money, and have the state pass that through into areas where we get a better return on investment,” Weisberg-Stewart said. “We still believe that if we team up, if our state would think outside the box and work specifically with the federal government, which the Texas Border Coalition proposed several years ago, and do something specific, such as looking for cash and arms on southbound checks, and do it in an organized fashion, it would be the best bang for our buck because that funding would come from the federal government. We could use local law enforcement or Department of Public Safety under the jurisdiction of the federal government.”
Asked to define the Operation Stonegarden program, Weisberg-Stewart said it allows DPS to do spot inspections and also look for specific items in a suspect vehicle. “For example, let’s say DPS is doing something to see if all vehicles are insured. Let us say they are looking for stolen vehicles specifically. They are able to stop those vehicles if they have suspicion. But, you cannot get into those vehicles unless you have the proper authority to do so. With the state you have to have probable cause. With the federal government it is different. The federal government, when they are on the bridge, they have the right to inspect your vehicle without probable cause.”
Weisberg-Stewart reiterated her main point. “The state should really talk to the federal government in order to get more funding for specific missions, such as Stonegarden funding. They have to be able to work with the federal government because it is the federal government’s jurisdiction that gives them permission to look inside that vehicle. State law does not allow them to go straight into a vehicle.”
An area where DPS and local law enforcement could play a role, Weisberg-Stewart said, is helping man southbound inspection stations. Asked what she thought about southbound inspections at the border checkpoints, such as those at Sarita or Falfurrias, Weisberg-Stewart said:
“The problems are happening at our bridges. Texas is the No. 1 state for cash and arms going into Mexico. Why not catch it at the bridge? Let’s have southbound inspections for specific items. We do not have the manpower for full southbound inspections. We are 6,000 short when it comes to manpower and $6 billion short in technological needs.
“If the state wants to do something useful it could use DPS, underneath Customs and Border Protection, to assist with southbound inspections. Or you could have local police departments, which are currently doing some of these kinds of things, under the direction of Customs and Border Protection.
“If we know this cash and these guns are causing all this mayhem in Reynosa and Matamoros right now, why wouldn’t we do something to stop it? The cash and weapons are coming from here, why would we not want to stop that?”