THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Since March 2021, when Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star (OLS), Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) state troopers have been working around the clock to help defend the southern border. Nine months later, its chief reports a record for state interdiction efforts.
Since OLS began, state troopers have arrested more than 10,000 illegal immigrants, including smugglers and drug traffickers, Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event in Austin. They’ve seized over 5 tons of methamphetamine, over $17 million in cash, and enough fentanyl to kill over 260 million people.
The operation integrates DPS state troopers with the Texas National Guard to deploy air, ground, marine and tactical border security assets to high-threat areas to prevent and or mitigate Mexican cartels’ human and drug smuggling operations into Texas.
“Texas supports legal immigration but will not be an accomplice to the open border policies that cause, rather than prevent, a humanitarian crisis in our state and endanger the lives of Texans,” Gov. Greg Abbott said when he launched the operation. “We will surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis.”
There are currently 1,600 state troopers from all over Texas participating in OLS. They work two-week rotations of 12-hour shifts, 24/7, and are tasked with criminal interdiction at the southern border. They’re stationed from the southernmost part of Texas near Brownsville to as far west as El Paso, a distance of over 1,200 miles.
Last year, the Texas Legislature allocated $3 billion to finance OLS’s mission, which will last as long as the border remains insecure, Mr. McCraw said. Part of the funding includes money to hire 120 new officers, he told The Center Square, who’ll be stationed permanently in border communities.
The Biden administration’s open border policies are emboldening cartel and gang violence, fueling a multi-billion dollar human and drug trafficking trade, Mr. McCraw said, and DPS is holding the line to stop as much of it as they can.
From March to Dec. 2, 2021, DPS seized 160 pounds of fentanyl, which equates to more than 36.2 million lethal doses. Fentanyl-laced drugs often come in the form of tablets that look like prescription medications, including oxycodone, hydrocodone and Xanax, as well as heroin and ecstasy.
“Fentanyl is a deadly narcotic that is plaguing our society,” Mr. McCraw said. “The cartels will do whatever it takes to get it into the country, which is why Texas has stepped up to help secure our border and prevent this lethal drug and criminal traffickers from entering our communities.
“There’s nothing that the Mexican cartels have not taken over, not just in Texas, but throughout the nation,” he told a packed crowd Wednesday in Austin.
“If you’ve got a drug problem anywhere, a counterfeit bill problem related to fentanyl in New York City, it’s related to an unsecure international border with Mexico,” he said.
But the problem isn’t just lethal drugs. It’s that “criminal aliens,” he said, even “after you send them back and deport them, you convict them for child molestation or robbery and theft, murder, they come back, again and again. And we see this and it clearly has an impact on crime. It certainly does in our major urban areas and every community in Texas.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued the Biden administration several times over its immigration policy. He’s won some lawsuits, while others are still pending.
While Mr. McCraw said he “certainly applauds Paxton for suing the federal government, unfortunately, suing doesn’t secure the border.” Policy and interdiction on the ground does, he argues.
Pres. Biden’s policies have made the border unsecure, he said, “by overwhelming border patrol and serving as a pull and attraction of migrants around the world.” Texas is “suffering from a global mass migration,” he said. Previously, law enforcement would be able to plan for mass migration in response to a state failure or other reasons but “never one that was created by the federal government.”
Now, the Mexican cartels “have operational control of the border and operational control over Mexico,” Mr. McCraw said. “Corruption, intimidation, bribery, everything that worked in Columbia, related to task forces, has failed in Mexico because they’ve been compromised by corruption. We can’t count on Mexico to help us with border security. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to work with them. But at the end of the day, efforts to spend billions of dollars on various initiatives won’t contribute to securing the border.”
What has helped mitigate the damage caused by cartel violence has been the ability to deploy resources to help an overwhelmed Border Patrol, and new legislation to help law enforcement do their jobs passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Abbott. New laws increase penalties for human smuggling and transport, make them easier to prosecute, and impose serious penalties for fentanyl-related crimes, including life in prison.
“We’ve done some things, but all the things we’ve done, is after they’ve come in,” Mr. McCraw said. “The whole point of securing the border is they can’t come in without being detected and interdicted. We’ve always provided direct support to border patrol efforts but for the first time in DPS history, officers began arresting illegal aliens for criminal trespass after the state legislature passed a new law.”
Texas also for the first time in history dedicated money from general revenue funds to build a border wall, Mr. McCraw said. Gov. Abbott announced last June that Texas would build its own wall. In six months, construction had already begun.
Since the federal government won’t secure the border, Mr. McCraw said, Texas is doing everything it can within the law. No state statute addresses the federal issue of immigration. But DPS can, and is, arresting illegal immigrants who commit state crimes.
“You have to secure the border from the river, not in Washington, D.C.,” he said, “This isn’t rocket science.”
Mr. McCraw pointed to a study conducted decades ago by agents in the Tucson Sector, which identified the most effective preventative measures to secure the border. They include building barriers on the water, investing in detection technology and training efficient personnel.
“Nothing’s changed in two decades in terms of the solution,” he said. “But there’s not been the willingness or the leadership in Washington, D.C. to be able to do it.”