In a meeting at the Capitol with sheriffs from counties near the Texas-Mexico border, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday said the state should allocate more money to help local law enforcement agencies cover the costs associated with unauthorized border crossings.
“I’m asking for additional appropriations from the state Legislature during the special session to, in part, fund the needs that the sheriffs have articulated, but also to fund in part additional strategies that will be conducted by the state of Texas,” said Abbott, who on Thursday summoned lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session.
Among the tasks he laid before the Legislature was to take even more steps to pay for what the governor called a “comprehensive border security plan.”
Abbott earlier said Texas would continue the halted federal effort to build more fencing along the border. And during the regular session, lawmakers allocated more than $1 billion for border security efforts that state Republican leaders say the Democratic Biden administration has allowed to lapse.
That $1 billion does not include $250 million Abbott and legislative leaders have agreed to reallocate from other state projects to pay for more border fencing. In addition to the state commitment, about $800,000 has been raised from private sources for the project, the governor’s office said.
The sheriffs, all wearing white cowboy hats and assembled around a long table in one of the governor’s office suites on the Capitol’s second floor, said local resources are being stretched by a surge in unauthorized border crossings.
Some of the sheriffs spoke of encountering drug traffickers and human traffickers, and sometimes engaging in high-speed chases in the efforts to apprehend them. Another said his officers have encountered the bodies of migrants who died trying to make their way north.
According to figures posted online by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, apprehensions of people crossing the border without authorizations have been escalating each month since January. Figures for May, the most recent available, show nearly a 700% increase from May 2020 in all sectors from Brownsville to San Diego.
May 2021 apprehensions were up nearly 1,275% from May 2020 in the Rio Grande sector. In the El Paso sector, the jump was nearly 750%.
However, apprehensions in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, were down significantly from 2019, and this May’s apprehensions were more comparable to May 2019 in both the Rio Grande and El Paso sectors.
In May 2019, the Rio Grande sector had 49,821 apprehensions, while the same region saw 50,793 in May 2021. The number had plummeted to 3,698 apprehensions in May 2020 amid the pandemic.
In the El Paso sector, apprehensions were 22,219 in May, which is lower than the region’s 38,637 in May 2019. The region had 2,617 apprehensions last year.
Abbott asked the sheriffs if they were turning the migrants over to federal authorities. At least one answered yes. The governor said that under his plan, migrants arrested on state criminal charges should remain in state custody.
“Our goal is not to release them,” Abbott said. “Our goal is to jail them.”
The Republican governor who plans to seek a third term next year has been critical of Biden’s border policies since the new president took office Jan. 20.
On June 30, Abbott joined former President Donald Trump in the border town of Pharr, where a section of unfinished border fencing served as the backdrop for the event that had many of the trappings of a campaign rally.
Abbott did not say how much additional money should be allocated for his efforts on the border. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said his week that his revised revenue estimate shows the state will likely take in $7.85 billion more than lawmakers allocated for the two-year budget cycle that starts Sept. 1.
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