El Paso Democrats, outnumbered as they prepare for the upcoming Texas legislative session, know the Republican majority will again make immigration spending and border security a priority in Austin. They also know that they lack the numbers to control some of the Republican Party’s priorities.
But border Democrats are hoping some Republicans will join them in demanding more control over how border security money is spent.
Since its inception in March 2021, Operation Lone Star, the state’s border security effort launched by Governor Greg Abbott, has spent billions of taxpayer money to equip and recruit Texas Department of Public Safety and state National Guard units. to the border.
State Senator Cesar Blanco, a Democrat from El Paso, said the operation did not produce the desired results and instead turned into an overspending for Abbott and other Republicans. But he said the recent attention given to El Paso, where migrants crossed in the thousands a day last month, could be used as a catalyst to justify additional spending.
“What we did in terms of spending on border security while I was in the Legislative Assembly didn’t work,” he said. “So, I think we need to rethink the strategy. This is something that I and the Democratic senators on the Texas-Mexico border have been talking about for quite some time.”
Despite the state’s efforts, which have included arresting undocumented immigrants on trespassing charges, installing barbed wire and empty truck trailers at the border, and building parts of what is known as the border wall in parts of South Texas, trespassing continues at record levels.
To spur the effort, in April 2022, Abbott received almost $500 million in public funds from multiple agencies and transferred it to Operation Lone Star. This included money from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ($53.6 million); Texas Department of Public Safety ($159.2 million); Texas Health and Human Services Commission ($210.6 million); Texas Department of Health ($36 million); Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission TABC ($4.3 million); and the Texas Department of Juvenile Justice ($31 million).
“This additional funding ensures that the Lone Star State is fully prepared to provide the Texans with the border security strategy they demand and deserve,” Abbott said in a press release at the time.
State Rep. Claudia Ordaz-Perez, an El Paso Democrat who will serve her second term in the Texas House this year, said such budget moves need to be scrutinized.
“The problem I have is that there is really no sense of responsibility when it comes to the appropriation process,” she said. “The Governor has largely allocated funds for this without any input from the Legislative Assembly.”
Blanco said he has discussed the issue with Republicans, who agree the state needs to be more transparent about how billions are being spent and whether the effort is worth the cost.
“If they are truly fiscal conservatives, they should be asking these questions. What do we get for our money?” he said. “And it seems to me that there’s a shift, at least for some Republicans, that these questions are starting to be asked.”
But Blanco also acknowledged that Republicans are likely to view the state’s current surplus as money that could be used to increase spending on border security.
“We are going to enter this session with this big $27 billion surplus,” he said. “I think it’s safe to assume that Republicans will be willing to spend more state dollars on border security, which you and I and everyone knows, Republicans included, is a federal responsibility.”
Ordaz said that in addition to oversight, the delegation will urge lawmakers to look beyond immigration issues when discussing border policy.
“It has become such a political issue. In El Paso, we are sometimes used as political football, which is very unfortunate,” she said. “We always hear about border security when a border is so much more than just that. So for me, it’s always an attempt to add other aspects of the border’s potential when it comes to our workforce, when it comes to economic development, when it comes to job creation.”
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