DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Texas’ top three leaders, Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Joe Straus directed the Department of Public Safety to immediately begin law enforcement surge operations along the Texas-Mexico border.
The announcement came Wednesday evening.
State leaders say they’re trying to combat a “flood of illegal immigration into the state in the absence of adequate federal resources to secure the border.”
The surge operations will cost $1.3 million each week, and DPS is authorized to continue the operations for the rest of the year.
DPS is allowed to use any of its funds to pay for the surge. The move avoids a special legislative session that some lawmakers had requested.
In a statement, Governor Perry said, “Texas can’t afford to wait for Washington to act on this crisis and we will not sit idly by while the safety and security of our citizens are threatened.”
State officials worry that while the federal government scrambles to house thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border, there are fewer federal agents to keep up with criminals and gangs trying to get into the U.S.
The state says last year, when DPS conducted Operation Strong Safety, crime rates related to drug cartels, gangs, and other illegal border activity dropped sharply.
Since October 1, 2013, the federal government says more than 47,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have crossed the Southern border. Most of them, more than 33,000 have crossed into Texas. Government estimates say by the end of September, that number could reach 90,000.
It’s not just children. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol says it has apprehended 160,000 illegal immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley during the first eight months of this fiscal year. That’s more than the 154,453 illegal immigrants apprehended in the same area in fiscal year 2013.
While the crisis involving the unaccompanied children is growing, experts say this isn’t a new problem. Bill Holston is executive director of the Human Rights Initiative in Dallas. He says his organization has helped represent hundreds of unaccompanied children gain legal status so they can stay in the U.S. “We’ve been representing unaccompanied minors for about 10 years.”
Holston says they’ve helped 45 children so far this year — that’s double the number they assisted all of last year. “There’s no indication this is going to slow up and every indication is that’s going to increase. I don’t see any end in sight.”
The children now being cared for in federal facilities often claim they’ve come to the U.S. to find a parent who’s already working here — or to flee gang violence in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
But Holston says immigration judges in Dallas aren’t quick to grant legal status to those requesting political asylum by claiming they’re trying to escape gangs. “The fact that they get up here, and that they’re fleeing violence, doesn’t give them any grounds for relief at all. So the only way they get to stay here in the U.S. legally, is through this special immigration juvenile status visa.”
To get that visa, the children have to first establish that the parent they left behind abused them.
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