Rio Grande Valley legislators agreed border security has to be dealt with, but exactly how is still debatable, after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Tuesday to extend the National Guard’s presence.
The National Guard has served a purpose, but having more input from Valley legislators and community leaders — people who actually live on the border — on what a secure border looks like would lead to more pragmatic approaches, they said.
“To a limited extent, I think the guard’s good, but we have to look at what’s the best bang for our buck,” said state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission. “In my opinion, we may be able to do a lot of work that the National Guard does at a cheaper cost, maybe putting surveillance cameras, possibly a blimp, or something of that nature.”
Others said the best way was to pump money into resources already on the ground.
“Without question, the most useful people in the Rio Grande Valley right now to achieve the goal of border security is DPS and local law enforcement,” said state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “I think that’s where the money needs to go.”
Another option was having authorities inspect vehicles as they left the United States.
“I would venture to say it would be much better for us strategically to have DPS at the border, on the southbound lane, checking the vehicles as they go into Mexico,” said state Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco. “That way you can see if they have guns, and if they have money and if they have any type of ammunition going into Mexico. I think that’s a more sensible way because people are still stealing vehicles, they’re still getting into Mexico, and what have we done — not a thing.”
However it’s done, the legislators felt like Patrick’s announcement to extend the guard’s deployment were more part of a political ploy, instead of a sincere attempt to accomplish security.
“We’re wasting money having these services out there sensationalizing the whole militarization of the border just to have some type of political play on us,” Martinez said. “I don’t think it’s right. We on the border see how it’s affected us economically. We don’t want people to think the border’s unsafe. We understand what’s happening on the south side of the border, but that’s not occurring on the northern side of the border.”
Martinez and Canales said it was frustrating to have those not from the Valley making decisions that affect the area.
“To some degree, it’s offensive in the sense that I don’t think they have a full grasp of what’s transpiring or what the problem is,” Canales said. “To make blanket statements without having informed yourself or the leaders or the people who are from that area about your decision is disheartening and disturbing.”
Beyond what could happen with the National Guard, the legislators agreed the need for security was real, even if it might send the wrong message.
“Nobody wants to militarize the border,” Longoria said. “The area is misrepresented all over the state, but I represent La Joya, Peñitas and Sullivan (City), and it’s a huge drug corridor. There’s high-speed chases every day. We don’t have the exact numbers to show that they’ve decreased, but in my opinion you’ve seen it somewhat because it seems the trafficking has moved further west, which is good.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said Patrick’s comments didn’t paint the Valley in a negative light.
“I don’t think it’s the wrong message,” he said. “I think we have to use the resources that we have available. In fact, there’s more activity. Crime is up. And we’re not able to stop the illegal flow of drugs into our state and country. I can’t blame our state leaders for trying to address it.”
Lucio said he hoped Patrick’s intent on keeping the National Guard there was to have them “mostly in the background to free up other officers.” He also expressed his hope they’d serve more of a humanitarian purpose, assisting the refugees who pass through.