Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick committed Tuesday to spending tens of millions of dollars to keep Texas National Guard troops deployed along the border with Mexico.
The leader of the Texas House, however, shrugged off Patrick’s call with a notable lack of enthusiasm.
“I appreciate (Lt.) Gov. Patrick’s remarks, but Gov. Abbott is the commander in chief and he will decide whether to extend the National Guard’s deployment,” House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement.
And Gov. Greg Abbott, portrayed by Patrick as standing “shoulder to shoulder” with him on border security funding, was silent on the issue, with his office declining to respond to requests for additional information from reporters across Texas.
Even so, Patrick did enjoy the support of most Republican senators, many standing behind him Tuesday as he announced a three-step process to beef up a troop-deployment budget that will run out at the end of March:
• $12 million to fund the National Guard troops for two months, to the end of May, when the legislative session will end. Patrick said he will work with Straus to allocate the money.
• A supplemental budget, which Patrick said will be submitted to the Legislature by Abbott, funding the troops for the final three months of the state fiscal year that ends Aug. 31.
• Money set aside in the 2016-17 state budget.
The House and Senate, however, are starting at different points as they begin work on that budget.
The proposed Senate budget includes $284 million for the Department of Public Safety and the National Guard to split in a way that allows troops to remain deployed along the border. The organizations would determine how to divide the money, which includes the creation of a new DPS border security region.
The proposed House budget contains no money for continued National Guard deployment.
An increase in DPS troopers was a key part of the so-called border surge, known as Operation Strong Safety II, which was launched last June in the midst of a large jump in the number of arrests for illegal border crossings, particularly by unaccompanied minors and adults with children.
The National Guard troop deployment began in August with 1,000 soldiers, with the troops reduced to 200 in January, to supplement the DPS role in the surge.
The Texas Military Department has determined that 400 to 500 troops provide an adequate border presence that also would save resources, Patrick’s office said, adding that the lieutenant governor is working with military leaders “on different courses of action.”
The goal, Patrick said at his Capitol news conference, is to eventually replace the troops with DPS officers, “but that will take time.”
The funding for border troops was set in December, when the Legislative Budget Board — which included Straus, former Gov. Rick Perry and former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — devoted $86 million to keep additional DPS troopers on the border through August while winding down the National Guard deployment in March.
At the time, Patrick opposed cutting money for the troops, and he said again Tuesday that it would be a mistake to pull the soldiers back.
“Texas taxpayers are having to bear the brunt of this because the federal government is not doing their job,” he said. “It’s their responsibility, but it’s our problem.”
Patrick said statistics argue for the continued presence of border troops, adding that after the first 10 weeks of the law enforcement surge, weekly apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants fell from 6,606 to below 2,000. The DPS also says that $1.9 billion worth of drugs have been seized in the operation.
“The word got out that Texans were serious about securing our border,” he said. “You don’t stop doing something that’s working for the safety of Texans.”
But state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said using the military to patrol the state’s southern border is an unnecessary expense that will drain money from other needs.
“The border is not a war zone,” he said.
Rodríguez, speaking at a news conference Tuesday with other supporters of immigrant rights, also disagreed that the surge is working, saying there are indications that the multiple agencies deployed along the border aren’t collaborating sufficiently.
The Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition also opposes Patrick’s troop plan, the group’s executive director, Alejandro Caceres, said.
“We want a more progressive Texas, a more immigrant-friendly community,” he said.