In a welcome development, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus charged the House Appropriations Committee last month with studying the effectiveness of an $800 million border “surge” the state Legislature approved this year, ostensibly to make the Texas-Mexico border safer.
The surge, part of “Operation Strong Safety” started under then-Gov. Rick Perry, took 500 Department of Public Safety troopers from their normal duties around the state and rotated them into counties along the Rio Grande to bolster supposedly weak federal efforts to stop undocumented immigration.
Reservists from the Texas National Guard also were sent to the border, where they, like the DPS troopers, did not have a clearly defined role, except perhaps to further the political aims of state leaders.
So far, no one has been able to give good answers about what their expensive presence has accomplished. The DPS issued reports about its work, but critics charged that they included drug seizures and undocumented immigrant arrests by federal agents to inflate its accomplishments.
The powerful Texas Legislative Budget Board, which includes Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Straus, said the state had no definition for border security, so it could not measure their usefulness – a pretty good indication of the nebulous mission these people were sent on.
The problem is that from the beginning Operation Strong Safety has been more about political gain than border safety.
Last year, there was a surge in Central American children arriving at the Rio Grande because they sought to escape violence and poverty and erroneously thought the U.S. would welcome them with open arms. That has continued less dramatically this year, but long-term both undocumented immigration and border crime have been declining.