Border security back in front of Texas lawmakers

AUSTIN (KXAN and AP) — Plans to ramp up patrols along the Texas-Mexico border at a potential cost of $1.3 million a week are getting new attention in the Capitol.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials testified Tuesday about border operations before the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. The hearing in Austin comes two weeks after Gov. Rick Perry took the rare step of authorizing additional spending for an “operational surge.”

GOING IN-DEPTH // HEALTH RISKS

The top public health official in Texas is concerned about the risks of children being packed into U.S. border facilities.

Texas Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner David Lakey said Tuesday he is seeing everything from scabies to chicken pox, and even Tuberculosis.

Additionally, he said Border Patrol officers need to re-think their protocols.

The state’s health department has a special division dedicated to the ongoing needs of those along the border. The Office of Border Health was created in 1993.

It has field staff in El Paso, Harlingen, Laredo and San Antonio — who respond to health concerns along the border. Staff include experts in sanitation, toxicology, food safety and policy analysis.

The federal government also created a Border Health Commission in 2000. One of its main focuses is on taking care of TB patients.

“You stop these home invasions, you stop these evasive pursuits that are dangerous to the community,” DPS Director Steven McCraw said. “That’s what the state legislature has told us to do and we’re gonna do it.”

McCraw says the money would cover additional costs like overtime so patrols can continue to work 12 hour shifts instead of 8.

“What we want to do is create a hostile environment for cartels,” he said. “They make money off drug smuggling. If we’re standing across the river, they won’t come. They won’t do it.”

McCraw says agents, rangers and troopers are being deployed from all over the state, including Austin.

They’re working around the clock not only on the ground, but in the water and flying above.

The committee meets as both Republicans and Democrats say a “humanitarian crisis” unfolds along the border.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended entering the United States illegally since October.

Perry and other top Republicans say the situation has increased the potential for drug and human trafficking as border agents deal instead with the flood of children.

The conversation about border security is also bringing up talk about another border, the one between Texas and federal enforcement.

The president says he’ll take executive action on the border, some lawmakers have called for a special session of the legislature in Texas, and the Texas Attorney General asked the federal government for more money to secure the border.

Now, Texas is surging its presence in high-threat areas. Still, state troopers are not border patrol.

“Securing the border may not be a state responsibility, but it’s vitally important that it be done,” McCraw said.

At the hearing McCraw responded to a question about what would happen if Texas started sending people who have entered the country illegally back over the border.

“The risk is violation of the law,” said McCraw.

“If DPS was to turn people away at the border they probably would receive a challenge from an organization saying they’re overstepping their authority,” said Néstor Rodríguez, a professor at the University of Texas. “Often when their are children coming there are also like smugglers and quite literally the children are traveling through the same terrain, the types of crimes are occuring. So that there’s smuggling, there may be contraband coming through. And these are real important issues for law enforcement in Texas.

The DPS director and others say the cartels are benefiting from the influx of unaccompanied children, both because criminals make money off the situation and use it to distract border security.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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