Will Border Crackdown Cause Ranger Drain?

Perry dispatches Texas Rangers to the border

Gov. Rick Perry is sending the Texas Rangers to the border – but border mayors are questioning the deployment, and rural counties may miss their services.

In a Sept. 10 press release, Perry announced that he is mobilizing "highly-skilled Ranger Reconnaissance (Ranger Recon) Teams." Mixing with Texas National Guard Counterdrug forces, with support from Operation Border Star Unified Com­mand, they will operate in "high-traffic, high-crime areas" as part of a large crackdown on transnational gangs. Perry cited Mexico's 5,700 murders in 2008 as part of the need for the deployment.

The Texas Border Coalition, which represents border-area municipalities, judges, and economic development committees, urged caution on the rhetoric. On Sept. 16, coalition chair and Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster wrote to Perry, "Your remarks, if accurately reported, create a public impression of lawless hordes overrunning the border region and do not reflect our collective experience." For example, FBI statistics indicate El Paso is the third safest city in the U.S. Crime and detention of illegal immigrants has declined in border cities in recent years. What Perry needs to do, Foster wrote, is liaise better with local law enforcement. He added, "While each of our communities has their own unique issues, being overwhelmed by criminal elements from Mexico is not one of them."

This is not the first time that Perry's priorities for border security have been criticized. In 2008, he awarded $2 million to the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition for Web cameras along the border; visitors to the BlueServo.com website can watch the footage and become "virtual Texas deputies" on Perry's "virtual border," phoning in reports of illegal activities. In the first year of operation, the program produced 11 arrests and 300 immigration referrals. Even with these low results, Perry has announced an extra $2 million for the project.

While the exact number and location of personnel to be deployed are secret ("in order to maintain operational security," Perry's staff said), there's unlikely to be a massive influx of Rangers riding to the rescue. For all their high public profile, there are only 134 commissioned Rangers. Most are law enforcement veterans whose main job is criminal investigation in areas without a detective force; their work resulted in 1,517 felony arrests in 2008. The ACLU of Texas has already filed an open records request with the governor's office about the units, based on concerns that their deployment to the border will adversely affect policing elsewhere in the state. But Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said these rolling deployments should not affect that core role and added, "There will be other Rangers available to assist local law enforcement agencies if they need help."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

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