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Texas Officials Justify Cost of Enhanced Security Operations at the Border

Lizzie Chen for KUT News
The heads of the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety answered questions from Texas lawmakers about the cost of shoring up security measures at the border at a State Capitol hearing on July 29, 2014.

The heads of the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety say they never recommended deploying National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border – as Gov. Rick Perry ordered earlier this month.

It came as some state lawmakers grilled officials on what’s being accomplished with the millions of dollars in extra spending aimed at shoring up security along the Texas-Mexico border. Up to 1,000 Texas National Guard troops are being deployed to the border for up to a year. It will cost the state up to $12 million a month, which includes money for training, even learning Spanish.

At Tuesday’s hearing at the Texas Capitol, Texas National Guard Maj. Gen. John Nichols told lawmakers the money being spent is worthwhile.

"More folks have been apprehended this year, absent the kids than the last two years, so there’s been a surge of illegal aliens coming across the border not just the kids," Maj. Gen. Nichols said.

But throughout the hearing, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, pressed officials to explain whether the expense can be justified given all the other needs in the state.

"Now give me something that tells me it’s worth the money," Rep. Turner said.

He asked DPS Director Steve McCraw why the state should spend millions – from a source that has yet to be determined – on the National Guard and the DPS surge.

"Reduction of criminal aliens, reduction of cartel extortion and kidnappings, reduction of home invasions, reduction of felony pursuits...all these things are activities in transnational crime," McCraw said. "To the extent we reduce them or eliminate them quite frankly is a value added from a public safety standpoint and homeland security standpoint."

So far, the Department of Public Safety has spent almost $6 million on the surge operation, which could last at least until next January. A lot of that covers overtime, travel and fuel.

On a separate issue of contention, Nichols said National Guard troops don’t have arrest power at the border and aren’t seeking it.