By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Robert “Beto” O’Rourke sparred over border security efforts during their first and only debate Friday night.
Border security was cited by moderators as the number one issue to residents of Edinburgh, the border town in which the debate was held. Its residents say they are tired of the crime and influx of people and drugs burdening their community.
The first question asked was: “What would you do to alleviate the financial burden on border communities?”
Gov. Abbott responded by saying he would continue the efforts of Operation Lone Star, the border initiative he launched in 2021 just a few months after President Joe Biden took office, when illegal border crossings began to surge.
Mr. O’Rourke said the operation “was a total failure” but didn’t offer any specific solutions.
The Texas legislature has allocated $4 billion to fund Operation Lone Star, which since last March has resulted in state law enforcement officials apprehending more than 308,700 foreign nationals who entered the country illegally, making more than 20,200 criminal arrests, including more than 17,900 on felony charges, and confiscating enough fentanyl to kill everyone in the United States.
“Operation Lone Star continues to fill the dangerous gaps left by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure the border,” Gov. Abbott has argued prior to Friday’s debate. “Every individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President Biden’s open border policies.”
When asked how much more the state should spend to protect Texans, Gov. Abbott said, “Zero if we had a president enforcing immigration laws.”
Mr. O’Rourke said Operation Lone Star is “political theater,” and Texas taxpayers “shouldn’t spend any more money on it.”
He said he supports a “safe, legal, orderly way to allow people to enter the country,” and that he would “work with local leaders to make sure we alleviate the burden” on them.
A video clip was played of Mr. O’Rourke saying at a recent campaign event that the Texas National Guard members were sent to the border “to be a solution in search of a problem,” implying there was no border crisis. Moderators reminded Mr. O’Rourke that he told The Houston Chronicle he would put National Guard troops on the border, leading the moderator to again ask him what his position was.
“So far, four guard members have lost their lives while serving during Operation Lone Star,” Mr O’Rourke said, and the operation was “a complete failure for the state.”
Roughly 10,000 guardsmen and women have been called up to participate in OLS.
When asked about busing people released by the Biden administration into Texas who entered the U.S. illegally, Gov. Abbott said the strategy began after he met with local officials who asked for help. Their communities were overrun by the amount of people pouring in; busing them out provided much needed relief to local communities, he said.
In response to a video clip played of New York City Mayor Eric Adams claiming Gov. Abbott refused to coordinate with him on transporting people to New York, Gov. Abbott said, “Mayor Adams has never called my office. What he’s saying is flat out false.”
He added that Mr. O’Rourke “continues to flip flop on every single issue, including the border, no matter the issue he keeps changing his position.”
Mr. O’Rourke said busing people north “is a political stunt.” He said he grew up on the border in El Paso, adding that “El Paso is one of the safest cities in America.”
According to Crimegrade.org, El Paso has a D- overall crime grade; a violent crime grade of a D+; property crime grade is a D-; and other crime a D-.
According to El Paso Police Department data released this summer, auto thefts are up 48%, assaults are up 15%, burglaries (home, vehicle, building) are down 34%, while murders and robberies remain steady, the El Paso Times reported.
El Paso, federal officials have increasingly warned, is a major human trafficking and kidnapping destination of cartel operatives coming across the southern border.
With the amount of foreign nationals unlawfully being released into El Paso by the Biden administration, its Democratic mayor and city council chose to bus “more people out of the city than the state is,” Gov. Abbott said.
Roughly 900 people a day are being released by the Biden administration in El Paso, according to news reports last month. Jorge Rodriguez of El Paso’s Office of Emergency Management said in August, the city’s shelters couldn’t handle the influx of people. Charter buses were contracted to move people out, El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino told local news outlets at the time, “to help a strained system.”
In the last week of August, El Paso’s shelters took in 2,235 people who’d been released into the city by the Biden administration. In August, roughly 8,400 people released into El Paso went elsewhere into the U.S., according to city data.
In the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Sector that includes El Paso, agents have reported encountering roughly 1,500 people a day, excluding gotaways – a term used by border patrol to describe those who evade capture of law enforcement.
Mr. O’Rourke said El Paso’s busing more people out than Texas was an “apples to oranges” comparison, but wouldn’t elaborate further.
Mr. O’Rourke “wants to perpetuate the open border policies of the Biden administration,” Gov. Abbott said. “He refused to acknowledge the busing strategy of El Paso because they have no way to sustain the influx of people.”
Gov. Abbott said he will continue to bus people to sanctuary cities as long as the border remains open, and he is expanding sanctuary city destinations.
So far, Texas has bussed more than 8,100 people to Washington, D.C., since April, over 2,900 people to New York City since August 5, and more than 870 people to Chicago since August 31.