By Keith Collier, American Statesman
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw on Thursday said there is “no credible information that a terrorist has crossed or will crossâ€ the Texas-Mexico border, but that it is important to continue monitoring the area.
State leaders have raised the specter of terrorists crossing the border because of lax federal border security. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., went so far as to say that at least 10 Islamic State fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas.
A so-called border surge has been underway since June when hundreds of DPS officers were deployed to the border as a wave of unaccompanied children poured into the country, swamping local authorities.
During a hearing Thursday of a special committee formed to assess the fiscal impact of the surge, McCraw repeatedly described the operation as a success, pointing to figures showing an increase in apprehensions since last year (246,000 in 2013 to 294,000 so far this year), and decreased apprehensions since the summer (about 6,600 a week in the summer at the height of the wave of unaccompanied children to less than 2,000 right now).
The agency so far has spent $25 million on the operation, McCraw told the committee.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, noted that the agency has claimed success when apprehensions are both low and high, making it difficult for lawmakers to figure out “how much money to appropriate for this activity.â€
Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, said “Iâ€™m one of the folks who thinks weâ€™re going to be at this for awhile and we need to get it right so weâ€™re not just throwing money at the problem with no results.â€
“We all know there is a need for protection at the border and for the border presence and itâ€™s just, how much do we want to invest?â€ Howard continued. “What is the appropriate amount of money that gets us a return on that investment? And I think weâ€™re still going back and forth. Itâ€™s hard to get a firm grasp on that if weâ€™re talking about the number of interdictions, if weâ€™re talking about the number of apprehensionsâ€¦â€
McCraw said that, “whether the numbers go up or down is not a metric,â€ but said, “I can tell you that counting illegal alien apprehension, thereâ€™s no question weâ€™ve been successful in this operation.â€
In a speech last month announcing his executive order on immigration, President Barack Obama noted that “the overall number of people trying to cross the border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s.â€
Many of the committee members, including Otto, serve on another board that on Monday unanimously approved $86 million in additional funding for border security as part of a plan to wind down the more expensive Texas National Guard presence on the border while installing some 4,000 more cameras along the entire 1,254-mile-long Texas-Mexico border to assist the DPS troopers who will remain there through at least August. There are currently about 1,300 cameras on the border, McCraw said.
“Weâ€™re going to move as quick as possible,â€ McCraw said of camera installation. He told Howard it was important for the National Guard to stay there through March to finish that process.
The $86 million, coming from various funds in the current budget, also will go toward trooper overtime statewide. Included is $17.5 million for the National Guard to pay for 1,000 guardsmen through March. The state military branch initially received $32.5 million from the state when it was deployed in July, bringing the total cost of its operation to $50 million.
At the Legislative Budget Board meeting on Monday, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, questioned whether the situation on the border still could be considered an “emergency.â€ Republican members, including outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said that it does.
“Itâ€™s important to remember that the Rio Grande Valley is now the epicenter of drug and human trafficking for the nation,â€ McCraw said Thursday.