Security at the Texas-Mexico border has grown exponentially after an influx of undocumented, and often unaccompanied, migrant children in recent months. In response to the surge, Texas Governor Rick Perry has deployed up to one thousand National Guard troops. In addition, there's been a surge in federal Border Patrol agents and Department of Public Safety troopers.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of boots on the ground along the Rio Grande. But what exactly is the role and responsibility of every local, state and federal agency in securing the border?
Let's start with the people whose job description expressly includes securing the border and stopping illegal immigration. There are about 10,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to Texas. According to Customs and Border Protection, those agents have two main missions: to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the U.S. and to detect and prevent illegal entry of aliens.
Also along the border, aviation and maritime patrols run by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Those patrols focus mostly on finding and deterring criminal activity, like drug smuggling. DPS Assistant Director John Jones says drug cartels and gangs can move lots of people and drugs across the border in just about 10 minutes.
“In that area, having that small opportunity, we're trying to reduce that window – that 10 minute window – using multiple different maritime assets and having that aviation up there,” Jones says. “[It] helps reduce that probability more into law enforcement's favor versus the criminal enterprise's favor.”
Next up are sheriffs’ departments from the 14 counties that touch the border…and several others just beyond. A.J. Louderback is president of the Sheriff's Association of Texas. He says the constitutional duties of those sheriffs and their deputies are to respond when called for help.
“We are not in the actual immigration business. That's a federal government task. That's what they're supposed to take care of,” Louderback says. “But we do investigate each of those complaints in times when we run across these individuals. And we do detain and hold for border patrol assistance.”
He says Sheriffs are basically first responders. They get a call, like any other police department, and head out. Once they know what's going on, they decide if someone else, like border patrol or the Texas Rangers, need to be called. They’re at the local level, but they’re the first line, Louderback says.
The sheriffs get help coordinating efforts by the DPS's John Jones and the state's Texas Joint Crime Information Center. The center is headquartered in Austin, with several analysts taking in information from the border and trying to figure out when and where drug cartel activity is going to happen. But it also includes several field analysts working with local law enforcement, other state agencies – like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department – and federal agents. Jones says the collaboration helps get the right people to the right place.
“And so how do you proportionally appropriate man power, analytical power for state law enforcement agency,” Jones says. “And you do that sometimes with a center like this able to prioritize what are the biggest threats to Texas and her citizens.”
So where does the recent increase of DPS agents and National Guard fit in?
Let's start with DPS. The agency's director, Steve McCraw, spelled out their duties earlier this month at a press conference with Governor Perry.
“The Department of Public Safety increased the number of troopers, agents and Texas Rangers along the border to conduct sustained 24-7 operations on the ground, on the river and above the river,” McCraw said.
Those operations include surveillance and detention of anyone coming across the border illegally. DPS also coordinates efforts with the Border Patrol to deter criminal activity, especially drug trafficking.
Now we come to the National Guard. Governor Perry has ordered 1,000 troops to the border. Some of them have already started arriving. Texas National Guard Adjutant General Major General John Nichols says their role is pretty simple: They’re there to back up the DPS.
“We will go to the border as force multipliers for DPS that's already there,” Nichols says. “We will also help them secure the border in accordance with the governor's request.”
He says the troops are being trained in surveillance, and Spanish. Their weapons will be for self-defense only.
“Specifically we're there to deter and refer them. Working in partnership with DPS troopers,” says Nichols. “So they're in various observation posts across the Rio Grande Valley. We're going to go take their place in those posts so that we can free them up.”
So, the overall goal is to fill the gaps. The National Guard takes over some of the DPS surveillance, which allows the DPS spend more time monitoring and stopping drug cartel activity. That duty, according to Governor Perry, is the one falling through the cracks while Border Patrol deals with the thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border.