ECRW’s border security forum sparks discussion

Texas law enforcement officials highlighted the importance of investing in border security Wednesday at an Ector County Republican Women meeting.
Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Orlando Alanis said his agency has invested a lot of time, resources and legislative money to help secure the Texas-Mexico border. He said border security increased in 2014 after DPS was directed to launch Operation Strong Safety to combat the criminal elements exploiting the border.
“The border is the responsibility of Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, but because of understaffing in areas that becomes vulnerable,” Alanis said. “That becomes a problem for our state and nation. We went over to help our Border Patrol partners fill in gaps that they couldn’t.”
Alanis said the influx of personnel led to success with crime deterrence. After the first week of the operation, there were 6,606 illegal alien apprehensions in the area of operation and by week 11 the numbers had decreased below 2,000, a 2015 DPS news release stated. He said that level of success comes at a price.
Alanis said in 2015 Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 11 and allocated $800 million for border security efforts. He said the agency spent $200 million in the first six months.
“Until the day that we can stop all drug smuggling and human smuggling coming across our border, that’s when we can say our border is secure,” Alanis said. “It’s very expensive but necessary to keep fighting the fight along the border.”
Although the Rio Grande Valley was described as the epicenter of the border security discussion, Sheriff Mike Griffis said that constructing a wall on the border could have positive impacts for Odessa.
Griffis said Ector County had 51 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees during the month of December.
“The cost to take care of those individuals was over $71,000 dollars,” Griffis said. “People don’t think an open border is costing us money, well it is.”
The county does participate in the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which provides funding to states and localities that incur correctional officer salary costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens. While some funds are reimbursed back to the county, the amount received is determined by the number of eligible inmates and overall availability of funding.
Texas Ranger Brian Burney was also a speaker at the event and shared his experience working within a special response team in the Roma and Rio Grande City area. He showed the audience images of the Roma–Ciudad Miguel Aleman International Bridge and the vast amount of land Border Patrol agents must often single-handedly monitor.
“Under that bridge there’s no fence, no wall,” Burney said. “You can swim right across the river and walk right around our port of entry if we’re not paying attention.”
Burney said border security is a cat-and-mouse game. He said people attempting to smuggle drugs into the country often use human diversions to attract agents to another area of the Rio Grande River. He said in areas where a levee wall is in place it can slow down those trying to cross, but what is needed most is manpower.
“They’re going to try ways to get over, under, around and through,” he said. “We need to have resources in place to respond.”
Alanis agreed that border security needed to be multifaceted to be successful.
“A wall without technology, without resources, without aerial platforms and without anybody to respond to those trying to breach our wall is useless,” Alanis said. “It’s simply an obstacle for people to find a way around or over.”
Audience members voiced opinions toward the end of the meeting that focused on human trafficking, crimes committed against children and the influence of the demand for illegal drugs on border security.
ECRW patron Wallace Dunn said he grew up in an area of El Paso where he could see the Rio Grande River. He said a wall would not be the sole answer to all of the country’s border problems, but it would be a piece of the solution.