The Austin Chronicle

Texas Lege Preview: At the Border Is It Lock ’Em Up, or Help Them Out?

The state could help ease the migrant crisis, but not by doing what it’s done so far

By Benton Graham, January 13, 2023, News

During a December press conference, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick turned around a poster to reveal his priorities for the 88th Texas Legislature. Toward the bottom read: "Border Security and Law Enforcement." Patrick touted the state's $2 billion (and counting) surge of security spending and disparaged President Joe Biden, who visited El Paso on Jan. 8. "Without our [Department of Public Safety], without our National Guard, without the state doing what we're doing, the situation would be far worse," he said. However, reporting by The Texas Tribune and Military Times last year revealed that National Guard members deployed to the border had problems getting paid, lacked access to basic equipment, and generally felt underutilized.

Senate Bill 237 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and House Bill 82 by Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, would empower Gov. Greg Abbott to "coordinate, develop, and execute an interstate compact for border security among interested states," and adds that the endeavor would need congressional approval. Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, who currently serves on the Veteran Affairs & Border Security Committee, said the influx of migrants is "a humanitarian crisis."

While immigration is often seen as an issue for federal and local governments, Blanco thinks the state can play a role. However, what it has done so far is not working. "There's got to be some accountability on how we spend these border security dollars," Blanco said. "Border crossings are at an all-time high despite the billions of taxpayer dollars being spent by the state, so I think we need to rethink our strategy."

Instead of putting more boots on the ground, Blanco would like to see greater investment in humanitarian support, as well as technology that he thinks could make the border safer. For example, he'd like to see the state spend some of its unprecedented surplus on infrared cameras that could help law enforcement identify smuggling operations, but also find migrants who have passed out in the desert.

What Abbott's border surge has done to date, on the other hand, is a head-scratcher for Blanco. "Anyone can Google the videos where these large shipping containers have been placed on, at least in El Paso, have been placed on our border. The videos of the migrants just walking around them and coming in."

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