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Texas is spending $800M to increase border security. Is it necessary?

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has approved a state expenditure of $800 million on new equipment, facilities, and law enforcement officers in an effort to take down crime cartels.

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    Texas Department of Safety Troopers patrol on the Rio Grand along the U.S.-Mexico border, in Mission, Texas.
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Texas governor Greg Abbott has approved spending $800 million to amp up border security, causing speculation as to whether the state is creating its own border patrol. 

Texas plans to spend the money on a second $7.5 million high-altitude plane to scan the border, a new border crime data center, a 5,000-acre training facility for border law-enforcement agencies, and grants for year-round helicopter flights. The state also wants to hire 24 Texas Rangers to investigate public corruption along the border and 250 new state troopers as a down payment on a permanent force along the border. 

Abbott, who has been in office since January, says the new security measures are aimed at taking down drug smugglers. In February, he pledged to double the state's spending on securing the Mexican border. 

“Google ‘cartel crime in Mexico’ and just put a time period of the last week, and you’ll see some dramatic instances of what the cartels are doing in Mexico right now,” Abbott told reporters following the legislative session this month. “The first obligation of government is to keep people safe and that means ensuring that this ongoing cartel activity, which is not abating whatsoever, gains no root at all in the state of Texas.”

The figure of $800 million is more than double what former governor Rick Perry spent in any similar period of time during his 14 years in office, the Associated Press reports. However, Perry's border security spending still outweighed the spending of other US border states at the time. The former governor came under fire last July when he deployed 1,000 National Guard troops to the border as part of "Operation Strong Safety," which cost the state of Texas $18 million per month. 

“It’s not something the federal government has asked him to do,” Veronica Escobar, El Paso’s county judge, told The New York Times following Perry's deployment of the troops. “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.”

Perry and other government officials maintained that the National Guard deployment and other costly border security measures were necessary due to the federal government's failure to sufficiently address drug smuggling and the influx of minors crossing the border at the time. 

“It’s a very bittersweet situation,” said Texas State Representative Dennis Bonnen in a New York Times interview. “It’s a clear federal responsibility, but they choose to not do the job, so we have no choice but to fill the holes.”

It has not always been evident how effectively the Texas Department of Public Safety uses their funding. In 2013, records given to the Associated Press revealed that six gunboats, which cost the state $580,000 each when they were purchased in 2011, were used as infrequently as one day a week. A DPS spokesman said this month that the boats now conduct round-the-clock operations and have performed more than 1,400 missions in the last year alone.

Efrén Olivares, a lawyer for the South Texas Civil Rights project, says the recent increase in DPS presence has been a source of concern for immigrants living permanently in border-adjacent communities, particularly those who crossed illegally years ago.

“Local police are used to interacting with undocumented people,” Olivares said. “But with DPS it’s particularly bad because most are not from here." 

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