Texas Democrats question extra spending for border surge
DALLAS (Reuters) - Texas lawmen told a statehouse committee on Tuesday extra spending was needed to cut down on crime at the border and were met with skepticism from Democrats who questioned whether the surge could produce results that would justify the price tag.
The Special Texas House Committee on Border Operations met after the administration of Republican Governor Rick Perry announced in recent weeks it was spending more than $17 million a month for manpower and material to clamp down on criminals along the state's 1,240-mile (2,000-km) border with Mexico.
Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steve McCraw said the surge was needed because the attention of the U.S. Border Patrol was being diverted by a flood of children from Central America crossing into Texas.
"Not one square foot of Texas should be sacrificed to the trans-national cartels," McCraw said.
Texas plans to spend an additional $5.2 million a month for a stronger police presence on the border and more than $12 million a month to deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops to support the police.
Democratic lawmakers questioned the spending, saying data shows the flow of the children has slowed, more U.S. Border Patrol agents have been assigned to the region and the National Guard will not have the power to arrest, which raises questions about what the troops will do.
"These dollars are not in the current budget. The feds have given us no indication they will reimburse us," Democratic Representative Sylvester Turner said.
"Give me something that tells me it's worth the money," he said and then turned to the National Guard deployment and said: "You can't apprehend. You can't arrest."
Perry, seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 election, has come under criticism from Democrats for the deployment they said is more about politics than practicality.
Perry said he was forced into the move due to inaction by the Obama administration to secure the border which was allowing criminal elements to thrive.
Major General John Nichols, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, said the troops will undergo up to two weeks of training, including Spanish classes, before being sent on 90-day rotations.
McCraw and Nichols told the panel they did not recommend to Perry to deploy the troops but believe the effort will help law enforcement.