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