Where’s ol’ Blackjack Pershing when we need him? Surely some contemporary version of the general’s 1916 foray into Mexico on the trail of Pancho Villa, the bandit revolutionary, would have been cheaper than Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Captain Ahab-like obsession with sealing off the border. Since the lieutenant governor can’t wade across the Rio Grande via horseback and personally stop the undocumented who manage to make their way into this country, he and his border-watch buddies in the Texas Senate have chosen to throw money at the problem, huge amounts of money. Texas tax-payer money. This, we presume, is true tea-party conservatism at work.
The Senate budget would triple the Department of Public Safety’s budget as part of a $811 million package to deal with border security threats, mostly in South Texas. The House budget dedicates $556 million to DPS for border security operations, including $105 million for 300 more state troopers on the border.
Although the House budget is a bit more sensible than the Senate’s, which passed by a vote of 30-1 earlier this week, only a few lawmakers in either chamber have questioned whether the border-security money is justified. State Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, is one of them. His effort to find out whether last year’s “border surge,” the so-called Operation Strong Safety, achieved anything worthwhile has been stymied by the DPS, the governor’s office and other state agencies.
State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, the “one” in the 30-1 vote a few days ago, is another who views the border expenditure with a jaundiced eye. “I cannot honestly tell my constituents that we’re representing their best interests by putting $811 million into policing the border, when they feel unsafe in their own communities hundreds of miles away,” she said. Garcia also pointed out that her colleagues are eager to shovel millions into the maw of DPS, while they underfunded schools, roads, health care, prekindergarten and “other priorities of working families in Texas.” (They’re also much more eager to provide tax cuts, but that’s another story.)
Earlier this week U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, asked the federal government to do what DPS either can’t or won’t do: provide detailed information on the role federal agents played during Operation Strong Safety. By trying to delineate the individual function and accomplishments of local, state and federal agencies, Castro hopes to determine whether the money the state has spent, or intends to spend, is a wise investment.
Blanco, the El Paso lawmaker, said he welcomed Castro’s inquiry. “This is about accountability and transparency,” he told the Texas Tribune.