Texas mobilizes to patrol border with guardsmen, game wardens

State has spent $500 million since 2005 to boost security

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MISSION, Texas — Along the Rio Grande, the sus­pected smug­glers try­ing to slip into the United States have cer­tainly no­ticed their ad­ver­sar­ies on the wa­ter: burly com­man­dos in black-and-white boats mounted with .30-cal­i­ber ma­chine guns and bul­let­proof shields.

The patches on the of­fi­cers’ cam­ou­flage fa­tigues iden­tify them not as fed­eral Border Patrol agents, but as an­other breed of law en­force­ment en­tirely: Texas game war­dens.

A team of war­dens — whose rou­tine du­ties in­clude in­ves­ti­gat­ing fish­ing tour­na­ment cheat­ers and mak­ing ar­rests for boat­ing un­der the in­flu­ence — pa­trol the Rio Grande, pull­ing smug­gling sus­pects from the river and dodg­ing rocks thrown from the Mex­i­can side.

Texas Rangers mem­bers have also traded in their fa­mil­iar white cow­boy hats for cam­ou­flage, so they can blend into the brush on co­vert night­time op­er­a­tions. Texas uses he­li­cop­ters with in­fra­red ra­dar on the bor­der. It mon­i­tors mo­tion-de­tect­ing cam­eras it in­stalled on pri­vate ranches. And rather than rely on fed­eral high-al­ti­tude sur­veil­lance air­planes, Texas bought one of its own, for $7.4 mil­lion.

Gov. Rick Perry’s re­cent an­nounce­ment that he was de­ploy­ing 1,000 Na­tional Guard troops to the bor­der has gen­er­ated wide­spread at­ten­tion. But it was only the lat­est step in a broader, de­cade long strat­egy by Mr. Perry and other Re­pub­li­can lead­ers to patch to­gether Texas’ own ver­sion of the Border Patrol on its 1,200-mile bor­der with Mex­ico.

Mr. Perry and state of­fi­cials de­fend the show of force as a costly but nec­es­sary ef­fort to stop the smug­gling of peo­ple and drugs into Texas, and to pre­vent what they call “crim­i­nal aliens” from fill­ing up Texas jails un­re­lated to their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. But their op­er­a­tions have scores of de­trac­tors — in­clud­ing some of­fi­cials in bor­der com­mu­ni­ties — who say Mr. Perry and his sup­port­ers have no busi­ness us­ing tax­payer dol­lars to put state of­fi­cers and Na­tional Guard sol­diers on the front lines of a bor­der the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is re­spon­si­ble for safe­guard­ing.

“It’s not some­thing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has asked him to do,” said Veron­ica Esco­bar, El Paso’s county judge. “It is such a waste of tax­payer re­sources, es­pe­cially when so many fun­da­men­tal needs are un­der­funded by the very state lead­er­ship that pro­poses and pro­motes this waste.”

Texas has spent $500 mil­lion on bor­der se­cu­rity since 2005. No other state that shares a bor­der with Mex­ico — Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and New Mex­ico — has made a com­pa­ra­ble in­vest­ment of money and per­son­nel. And no other state has a Border Se­cu­rity Oper­a­tions Center, which Texas opened in Austin to an­a­lyze, map and share bor­der-re­lated in­tel­li­gence with lo­cal, state and fed­eral agen­cies.

That $500 mil­lion ex­pen­di­ture comes with a ca­veat. Last month, Mr. Perry told a con­gres­sio­nal com­mit­tee that Texas should be re­im­bursed by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for the half-bil­lion dol­lars it has spent se­cur­ing the bor­der dat­ing back to the pres­i­dency of Mr. Perry’s pre­de­ces­sor as gov­er­nor, George W. Bush.

Some­times the use of per­son­nel is jar­ring. The game war­dens have seen high-risk ac­tion on their bor­der pa­trols. In re­cent days, one was struck in the head by a rock, and an­other was as­saulted as he fought with a smug­gler re­sist­ing ar­rest. One June morn­ing in 2011 near Mis­sion, drug smug­glers try­ing to pro­tect a raft loaded with mar­i­juana threw rocks and fired as many as six gun­shots at of­fi­cers. The game war­dens, Texas Rangers and Border Patrol agents an­swered with a bar­rage of gun­fire, dis­charg­ing 300 rounds.

Their re­sponse was de­fended by Texas of­fi­cials, who said of­fi­cers fired in self-de­fense. Game war­dens — who carry guns and badges as fully com­mis­sioned state peace of­fi­cers — have no au­thor­ity to en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws on the bor­der. They make ar­rests for state crimes, such as hu­man traf­fick­ing.

Texas au­thor­i­ties work closely with the Border Patrol, co­or­di­nat­ing joint op­er­a­tions and shar­ing in­for­ma­tion. In Jan­u­ary 2007, when Mr. Perry or­dered 600 Na­tional Guard troops to the bor­der — his first state-ini­ti­ated bor­der de­ploy­ment — some sol­diers were paired with Border Patrol agents and lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers. But Texas op­er­ates in­de­pen­dently from fed­eral of­fi­cials, too, of­ten spot­ting and re­spond­ing to sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity be­fore the Border Patrol.

Border Patrol of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment about Texas’ bor­der op­er­a­tions. But there have been signs that fed­eral of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton dis­agree with some of Mr. Perry’s pro­pos­als and rhet­o­ric. The gov­er­nor’s re­peated re­quests in 2009 for fed­eral of­fi­cials to put 1,000 Na­tional Guard troops on the bor­der to help curb what he called drug-re­lated “spill­over vi­o­lence” were never ap­proved.

United States - North America - United States military - United States government - Texas - Central America - Latin America and Caribbean - George W. Bush - Bill Richardson - Texas state government - Mexico - Rick Perry - U.S. National Guard - Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - David V. Aguilar


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