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Barbs and barbed wire won't solve issues at the border

May 24, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.

The federal government spends $25 billion each year to police the border with Mexico. Yet, Gov. Greg Abbott thinks Texas taxpayers should spend upwards of $10 billion more so he can maintain his own massive police presence there.

In 2022, the federal government made two million immigration arrests and confiscated more than 16,000 pounds of fentanyl at the border, triple the amount of the deadly drug seized in 2020. Yet, Abbott falsely claims the border is wide open while absurdly accusing Biden of working in "cahoots" with drug cartels. Abbott has thrown billions in taxpayer money behind his border police initiative but hasn't proved it is working. Now he and Republican lawmakers are demanding yet another border police force made up in part by civilians.

While deeply flawed, Abbott's spare no expense border protection strategy isn't without reason. Polls consistently show border security and immigration are top priorities for Texans, and it's true that the federal government has failed to meet challenges at the border. The migrant crisis, fueled by extreme violence and poverty in Central America and Mexico, demands new solutions, but they won't be found in Abbott's border militias or his forcing state police into a never-ending fight against unauthorized immigration. They won't be found either in a federal government border enforcement strategy that's been ineffective for decades. Nor can they be found in the governor's political posturing or in the Biden administration's tightening of immigration rules.

Border challenges demand reform at the federal level

They can only be found in an overhaul of our federal immigration and border enforcement laws. Congress and the Biden administration must provide immigration authorities with more resources to adjudicate the crush of asylum seekers and reduce case backlogs, and expand guest worker programs and legal opportunities for migrants to enter the United States and live and work here. These reforms cannot be made without addressing the root causes driving migrants to flee their homes in the first place.

Abbott's border policing program--launched in March 2021 and ruled unconstitutional by a Travis County state district judge in January--has burned through $4.5 billion in its first two years. It is projected to spend another $4.6 billion in tax money in 2024 and 2025. That is $9.1 billion--more than the amount the state Senate proposes to spend on schools, mental health services and expanded broadband access in Texas over the next two years combined. Talk about misplaced priorities. Texans already pay for border security with federal taxes. Operation Lone Star forces them to pay again.

Making matters worse, lawmakers are now trying to pass House Bill 7, authorizing the new Border Protection Unit that would recruit civilians to work with peace officers at the border. It passed the House and awaits a final Senate vote. Thankfully, House Democrats forced the removal of a dangerous provision that would have allowed the civilian enforcers to detain and in some cases arrest suspected illegal border crossers, raising the specter of violent confrontations and civil rights abuses. HB 7 calls for yet another $100 million for border police staffing, courts and detention centers, and incentives for private companies to help militarize border communities. Lawmakers should vote against it.

The cost of Operation Lone Star is higher than its price tag

The $9 billion-plus price tag for Operation Lone Star only reflects what taxpayers are shelling out for Abbott's massive surge of state troopers, border barriers, expanded jails and courts, and more. The figures don't reflect Operation Lone Star's cost to other agencies and the services they provide, such as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission or Department of Juvenile Corrections, whose budgets were plundered last year to pay for Abbott's border crackdown. The price also doesn't convey the upended lives of thousands of National Guard soldiers who are ordered to the border, away from their careers and their families. And what about the steep price that law-abiding U.S. citizens in South Texas border towns pay because they live in fear of being mistaken for unauthorized migrants by state troopers casting wide dragnets across their communities?

Abbott brags about repelling an "invasion" of desperate people seeking a better life when he could be working with federal officials to find humane solutions. The costs of his political obsession with policing the border are staggering, yet they only double down on a federal enforcement strategy that isn't working. The answers to the issues at our southern border can't be found in Abbott's barbs or in the barbed wire of Operation Lone Star's perimeters. They can only be found in a just and compassionate overhaul of our immigration laws. It is long past time for Congress to act.

-- Austin American-Statesman, May 21

Print Headline: Barbs and barbed wire won't solve issues at the border


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