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Operation Border Star

Abbott’s border surge plan

A whole lot of not much here.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday he wants to nearly double state spending to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border, proposing a “continuous surge” with 1,000 new boots on the ground and millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment.

The proposal, dubbed his “Securing Texans Plan” and unveiled Tuesday in Dallas, would also include tougher laws against sex crimes, gang activity and domestic violence.

At a cost of more than $300 million over two years, the proposal represents the largest government expansion he’s proposed as a candidate for governor. The border security package would entail the hiring of 500 new Department of Public Safety officers over four years — plus additional overtime and support staff — to help create what he called a “permanent border shield.”

“We must do more to protect our border going beyond sporadic surges,” Abbott said. “As governor I will almost double the spending for DPS border security. I’ll add more boots on the ground, more assets in the air and on the water, and deploy more technology and tools for added surveillance.”

Abbott would not specify any existing sources of funding to pay for the new programs. He said only that it would come from existing general revenue dollars.

“These are going to be budgetary priorities that must be paid first,” Abbott told reporters after his speech. He said seized dollars and asset forfeiture programs eventually would help pay for the border security portion, which exceeds $292 million over two years, but he wouldn’t say how to pay for it before that money kicked in.

Asked if there were any programs that would have to be cut to pay for the dramatic spending increase, Abbott said, “I couldn’t identify them.”

“It would be whatever legislators may come up with they want to have funded. That is left to the ideas that will be articulated by the 150 state reps and 31 senators,” he said.

Abbott said he would not rely on “any new form of revenue,” including taxes or fees, to pay for the proposals.

“To be perfectly clear right now and forever: absolutely no tax increases whatsoever for any of my programs,” he said. “The Abbott administration will not have any tax increases.”

The first thing you need to realize is that there’s absolutely nothing new here. Remember Operation Border Star? Or Rick Perry’s border cameras? Or how about the fact that President Clinton sent the Marines to patrol the border in the 90s, as a commenter at BurkaBlog pointed out. That ended after 17-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez, Jr was shot and killed. I wonder if anyone in the media will remember any of this and ask Greg Abbott about it.

Beyond the un-originality of the idea is the unlikelihood of it doing anything. The Texas-Mexico border is really long; adding 500 agents means one more agent every two miles or so. The refusal to say how he’d pay for this little scheme is typical Abbott hand-waving. Does anyone really think these 500 new agents could collect $300 million in asset forfeiture funds per biennium, more than what the entire border patrol collects now, without the entire operation turning into Tenaha? It’s a scandal waiting to happen.

There is a way forward here, and that is for Greg Abbott to call on his Republican colleagues in Congress to quit screwing around and support comprehensive immigration reform. You know, like the plan that the Senate passed but the House refuses to vote on, with the explicit blessing of Abbott’s former employee Ted Cruz. The Senate plan is hardly the end of the rainbow, but it’s a big step forward. If Abbott wants to push for a better plan than the Senate’s, one that fetishizes the shibboleth of border security less and seeks a realistic and compassionate way to let more of the many people who really want to come to the US but are being kept out by our broken and byzantine process, then more power to him. I expect to be appointed to the board of the Koch Brothers’ evil empire before that happens.

Abbott isn’t actually interested in solving the problem, though. He’s just throwing red meat to his base, despite having the primary in the bag. As much as the locals didn’t care for his “Third World country” rhetoric, I doubt he even noticed, or cared if he did. He knows who he’s talking to. It’s what he does.

One more thing:

Abbott also proposed introducing the so-called E-Verify system, used to determine whether a particular employee has legal status, in state government.

Even though he said the system was “99.5 percent” effective, Abbott said he would not apply that new enforcement program to the private sector, where the vast majority of undocumented immigrants work.

The big-business lobby, representing many companies that have for years relied on cheap immigrant labor, has long resisted increased worksite enforcement in Texas and elsewhere.

“I think that Texas should establish the leadership position by employing this first as a state body, show that it works, set the standard for what it should be, before the state goes about the process of imposing more mandates on private employers,” Abbott said.

I’m just curious here, but how many undocumented immigrants does Abbott think are currently working undetected in state government? If this is a problem, why wasn’t he calling for E-Verify to be implemented before now? Surely Rick Perry and the Legislature wouldn’t have opposed the idea. And suggesting that maybe private businesses might consider voluntarily adopting it if he sets a good example for them is just too precious for words. If the system is so damn effective – not an incontrovertible claim, of course – and if undocumented immigrants are such a huge problem, why wouldn’t you push to make it a requirement? Burka is right, we don’t have policy in this state, we just have ideology. And it’s just insane.

Coleman pushing for CHIP restoration

Way back in those crazy, innocent days right after Joe Straus was elected Speaker, some of us had the silly idea that this might portend better legislation making it through the House. You know, serious policy stuff that actually benefits people, that sort of thing. Well, we’re still waiting for that to happen, but if it does, one place where a real difference can be made is with CHIP. Rep. Garnet Coleman is at the forefront of that, as he’s been for the past few sessions. From his office:

I will lay out legislation in the Health and Human Services Committee which will restore CHIP to its intended levels, and restore health coverage for hundreds of thousands of children in Texas. Representative Patrick Rose, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, has also invited me to sit in the committee to hear testimony regarding the 25 CHIP and Medicaid bills which will be heard.

My legislation, HB 2962, will restore CHIP to pre-2003 levels by removing unnecessary barriers which stand in the way of Texas children. It will remove the assets test, allow deductions beyond those for child care, and make it easier to renew. HB 2962 will also eliminate in person interview requirements at renewal, and use joint applications and supplemental forms for Medicaid and CHIP. Additionally, it will keep the once-a-year applications, making it easier for both working families and an already overwhelmed system.

The fight to fully restore CHIP will continue until our state laws match federal guidelines to ensure every eligible child is enrolled in CHIP. HB 2962 takes full advantage of an opportunity from the federal government to expand state CHIP coverage to include children from families earning up to 300 percent above the federal poverty level. It also includes a buy in option, at no cost to the state, for children from families with a net income up to 400 percent above the federal poverty level.

Governor Perry has stated that he does not favor the increase in eligibility, and that we must focus on enrolling children currently eligible but not enrolled in the program. We can and must do both. My goal is to remove the bureaucratic hurdles that keep eligible children from receiving health care.

I’ll note again the disparate treatment given to families who need health insurance for their children and the bureaucratic gauntlet they have to run to prove they really need it, and to border law enforcement officials under Operation Border Star, where money is given out with no apparent requirement to demonstrate that it was put to good use. Funny how our government works, isn’t it?

Anyway, I feel pretty confident this will pass the House, or at least that something like this will pass the House. I’m less confident about the Senate, but it could happen. And if it does, I am totally confident that Governor Perry will veto it, because doing so will play well with the five percent or so of Texas’ population that he cares about, that being the GOP primary electorate. Maybe in 2011, with a different Governor, we can make this happen. Until then, we have to keep pushing for it.

Operation Border Star

During the 2007 legislative session, $110 million was appropriated at Governor Perry’s urging for border law enforcement agencies to combat drug smuggling and gang activity. How’s that working out?

The state’s $110 million Border Star program, designed to help local authorities combat violent crime and drug smuggling, has been ineffective and a waste of resources, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said Wednesday.

In a study of 11 of the 40 border law enforcement agencies participating in the program, the group said authorities were stopping and searching thousands of vehicles but making few drug seizures and arrests. Also, it said, the 13 surveillance cameras set up on the border – a $2 million investment – netted just three arrests in their first six months of operation.

The ACLU said Operation Border Star’s performance measures encourage law officers to engage in work that doesn’t truly protect Texans from drug crime and emphasize geographic areas other than major drug corridors.

What resulted “was a disruption of the lives of ordinary citizens,” said ACLU policy analyst Laura Martin, who noted that the 29 other police and sheriff’s departments in Border Star didn’t respond to the request for information.

Program supporters say that although it may not have recorded great numbers of drug arrests, it’s a deterrent. And they said the departments studied by the ACLU account for just $5 million of the $110 million allocated and aren’t a representative sample.

“It’s proven that more boots on the ground disrupt and deter criminal activity along the border,” said Katherine Cesinger, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. “The governor believes that Operation Border Star and the state-led border security efforts are working.”

There’s that deterrent rationale again. Amazing what you can justify by claiming things would have been worse had you not spent all that money.

I read this story and I think about the people who apply for food stamps and CHIP and stuff like that who have to fill out numerous forms and submit to interviews and investigations to prove that they really need those funds. For just about every social program that we spend money on in this state, lawmakers demand to see results to justify that spending. Teachers are held accountable nine ways to Sunday for what goes on in their classrooms. But we drop a hundred million bucks on border security funds, and we’re supposed to accept Governor Perry’s faith that it’s making a difference? Where are the metrics and the reviews and the progress reports? I don’t get it. Stace has more.