FORT WORTH, Texas — Top Texas officials directed Department of Public Safety troopers late Wednesday to begin a surge to secure the Texas-Mexico border in the wake of a growing number of immigrants flooding into the southern part of the state.
Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus signed off on a plan to spend $1.3 million a week to try to combat the problem, even as a group of conservative state lawmakers asked them to call the legislature back to work in a special session to address the situation.
“Texas can’t afford to wait for Washington to act on this crisis and we will not sit idly by while the safety and security of our citizens are threatened,” Perry said in a statement. “Until the federal government recognizes the danger it’s putting our citizens in by its inaction to secure the border, Texas law enforcement must do everything they can to keep our citizens and communities safe.”
Perry, Dewhurst and Straus released a joint letter directing DPS officials to move forward with surge operations through at least the end of the calendar year, using any money allocated for the agency. They noted that previous law enforcement surge operations in the border proved effective.
This came as a number of state legislators asked for a special session to try to find their own solution.
“This is a big deal,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who plans to head to the border next week. “We can’t wait for this. It has to be done right and it has to be done now.”
Some Democrats have said adding resources to the border is not the solution.
“What is needed are not more ‘boots on the ground’ or any other euphemisms for the militarization that both impacts border residents’ daily lives and is inadequate to deal with the specific issue at hand,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.
The U.S. Border Patrol reported making nearly 160,000 arrests since Oct. 1 on Texas’ southwest border.
Stickland said he would like the Legislature to first help children who are here illegally. Then he wants the state to “turn off all the benefits we can from the state level” — such as health care — to reduce the draw for immigrants.
And he would like lawmakers to authorize a surge to identify and stop people benefiting from the immigration boom, such as sex or human traffickers.
“That’s what the state of Texas can and should be doing,” Stickland said.
An online petition launched last week has drawn more than 4,500 signatures from those who want the legislature called back to work.
State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston and the GOP’s pick for lieutenant governor next year, this week called on top state leaders to free up the $1.3 million a week to sustain operations along the southern Texas border.
“In January 2015, the legislature must take up border security as the first priority of the new session,” Patrick said in a statement. “As Lt Governor, I will insist our budget funds border security at levels recommended by Texas Law enforcement on a 24/7/365 day basis.
“We must do all we can to protect Texans until Washington meets its responsibility to secure our border and pass[es] responsible legal immigration reform, which brings an end to illegal immigration.”
Stickland said he hopes to head to South Texas next week to see the immigration problem first-hand.
He is among many heading to the border.
Last weekend, Republican Tony Tinderholt — who bested Diane Patrick in the GOP primary this year and faces Democrat Cole Ballweg in the legislative race for District 94 in November — spent time in Falfurrias observing and reporting those illegally coming into Texas.
He posted photos on Facebook saying that he was “on patrol, catching illegal immigrants tonight.” He said he later changed the post once he realized that he and those with whom he was monitoring private ranch land would only watch and observe — and report anyone they believed was illegally there to the Border Patrol.
“It was an eye opener,” Tinderholt said of his hours monitoring private ranch land with the Texas Border Volunteers. “We went out at night, sat with night vision and infrared vision. We saw four people, hands on top of each others’ shoulders and we called Border Patrol, who came out.”
Tinderholt said the stories he heard were stunning of the women and children who crossed the border with broken limbs or died on the ranches. “It was saddening and disappointing, but a necessity,” he said, adding that he hopes to soon return to South Texas to spend time with DPS troopers and Customs and Border Patrol workers there.
Ballweg wrote a blog post criticizing Tinderholt for the trip.
“The U.S. Congress has a responsibility to secure our borders,” he wrote, “and we need people like Tony Tinderholt to stop exploiting the issue of immigration for political purposes and start getting behind the kind of real reform that will solve the problem.”
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley