Saying that drug cartels are “ramping up” their efforts as the Texas National Guard prepares to leave the Rio Grande Valley next month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Tuesday that he’s seeking an additional $12 million to keep the troops there through May.
Beyond that, he added at a Capitol news conference, he would work to get a supplemental bill to fund deployments through August, in the hopes that the Texas Legislature would pass a budget that includes deployment funding beyond that. The Senate’s budget includes about $815 million for border security, which is more than the previous seven years combined.
“Under no circumstances should we have a complete pullout of the National Guard next month,” Patrick said. “We have that [$12 million], and we need to spend that money to keep the Guard there.”
The National Guard was deployed last summer in response to the surge of unaccompanied minors and family units, mainly from Central America, who breached the Texas-Mexico border. Former Gov. Rick Perry ordered up to 1,000 troops in response. That was in addition to a surge of Texas Department of Public Safety officers, which Patrick said would remain in place.
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Patrick did not say if any of the Guard members' duties would change should the $12 million be approved. They are currently used for surveillance and other support roles and do not have arresting powers.
He also said he would work with House Speaker Joe Straus and Gov. Greg Abbott to fund the extension.
“I’ll work with the governor and the speaker to commit the $12 million for the next two months to keep the Guard there through May, until we get a supplemental bill in place and the budget is passed for the next biennium,” Patrick said.
In a statement, Straus said, “I appreciate Governor Patrick’s remarks, but Governor Abbott is the Commander in Chief and he will decide whether to extend the National Guard’s deployment."
Abbott’s office has not responded to a request for comment.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Tuesday that he supports the DPS surge to combat the area’s problems.
“We have a problem down on the border, we have drug trafficking, we have human smuggling, we have guns going south,” he said.
But Hinojosa disagreed that his region needed the National Guard, adding that money earmarked for the Guard deployment could be better spent on DPS resources and equipment.
“I support maximizing and using the military assets, surveillance drones whatever we have” with DPS, he said. “I don’t think it’s effective to have thousands of guardsmen on the border. I think it’s counterproductive.”
Border security was the top concern for 37 percent of Texas Republicans, according to an October 2014 poll conducted by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune. Immigration followed at 26 percent. That’s compared with 7 and 9 percent of Democrats who identified border security and immigration as their top concerns, respectively.