With border security being one of the top issues of Texas political leaders, it is no surprise that Gov. Rick Perry has favored adding more drones to the arsenal already in use to help stop illegal crossings from Mexico.
Since the summer, Texas has had a surge of National Guard troops, Department of Public Safety personnel and even game wardens assigned to patrol the state’s southern border — all at an enormous price for taxpayers.
Considering the findings of the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general regarding the border drone program that has been in place for about 10 years, it is time to re-examine, if not totally reconsider, that project as well as some of the state initiatives.
The unmanned aircraft assigned to U.S. Customs and Border Protection are underused, largely ineffective and very expensive, costing $12,255 per flight hour, according to the federal audit released Tuesday.
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In addition, the audit found that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of border-crossing apprehensions in Texas were attributed to surveillance by the pilotless drones, The Washington Post reported.
Although one high-ranking Customs and Border Protection official took issue with the report — particularly the part about plans to double the fleet in a $443-million expansion — it is obvious that the program deserves a closer look.
The same is true of expensive border security operations requested or unilaterally undertaken by the state. After an influx of unaccompanied children from Central America illegally crossed the border into Texas last spring and summer, the governor called for more law enforcement agents to be sent to border towns, which he felt were vulnerable to foreign drug criminals and terrorists.
By the end of November, at least $500 million had been spent on the operation, and that month the Legislative Budget Board approved allocating $86 million more to fund parts of the surge through August.
The problem is that it has been extremely difficult to measure the operation’s effectiveness. Some argue that the show of force alone is a deterrent to immigrants crossing the border illegally. But how do you quantify that claim?
There’s little doubt that some of the decisions about the border made last summer were politically motivated and were calculated attempts to ridicule the Obama administration’s immigration policy.
The federal government’s handling of immigration is ripe for criticism, but the state’s efforts also must not go unchallenged.
It will be important that lawmakers in the new legislative session carefully study the border security efforts, determining their effectiveness and whether they justify the cost.
When accountability is expected from every office of state government, it should be no less so when it comes to border security.
Popular opinion demands a more secure border, but it also demands the wisest possible spending of taxpayer money.