EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Texas fully embraces legal immigration, and its job is focused on preventing illegal immigration, Gov. Greg Abbott says.
In addition to immigration and border security, Abbott fielded questions about health care, mass shootings and domestic terrorism during a town hall hosted by Nexstar Media Group on Thursday at the University of Texas at Tyler, not far from where Abbott grew up in Longview.
The goal of the town hall, which was broadcast statewide on-air and online across the company’s affiliates, was to facilitate an engaging and dynamic discussion between Texans and the governor. It was moderated by anchors Neal Barton of KETK and Sally Hernandez of KXAN, as well as political reporter Phil Prazan of KXAN.
Some participants were able to submit pretaped questions while others were picked out of the audience.
One of those people in the audience was Wood County Sheriff Thomas Castloo, who worked for the Border Patrol for 23 years and retired as a field operations supervisor. He questioned the millions of dollars Texas appropriated for border security.
“Illegal Immigration to this country is a federal issue. Yet, the state of Texas is spending resources, we’re sending the DPS troopers, we’re sending down the National Guard. But they lack the arrest authority to do anything with these,” Castloo said. “I understand that we’re using them to backfill for positions like for mechanics and for secretaries. But they’re actually not boots on the ground when it comes to enforcement.”
Castloo asked Abbott if there was something he could tell the audience to make them feel better about the tax money that’s going toward the border to make sure it’s being spent appropriately and effectively.
“Sheriff, and everybody else needs to understand this: There’s one reason and one reason only why we have to spend this money, and that’s because the United States Congress is not doing its job to secure our borders,” Abbott said. “If Congress would stop failing us, we could save this money.”
Abbott said the $800 million the Legislature approved during the last session “to do our part to secure the border” can only go to the Department of Public Safety.
“It’s adding 500 more Department of Public Safety officers to make sure we are securing the border,” Abbott said. “Some are on the border themselves. … They were able to help prevent people coming across the border in Eagle Pass and some other locations. They are literally there on the border.”
Abbott also explained that under certain conditions, DPS officers do have the authority to make arrests.
“Remember, the people coming across the border aren’t just people looking for a better place to live or looking for a place to work. There are drug cartels involved in this. There are gangs. There are human traffickers. And it is the job of the Department of Public Safety, if there anybody who is coming across the border committing crimes in the state of Texas, we want those people arrested and put behind bars. The Department of Public Safety has the authority to make those arrests.”
The governor also explained why he deployed 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border in June. He said that in the first three weeks of the month, 45,000 people came across the border illegally, and they came from 52 different countries.
“As governor, I cannot just stand back and let that happen and just wait on Congress to step up, which they would never do,” Abbott said. “So I deployed 1,000 National Guard to the border to help out.”
Abbott said the National Guard troops have been assisting with paperwork and transporting detainees from one place to another.
“Whenever Border Patrol agents are engaging in those types of activities, they’re not on the border where they need to be, working on making the detentions and arrests they need to be making,” Abbott said. “By the national guard filling those roles, it basically adds 1,000 more Border Patrol agents to do their job to help secure our border.”
When asked how he will measure the success of having National Guard troops on the border, Abbott said it’s difficult to come up with a specific metric that works.
“What would be a metric as to whether or not the Border Patrol is effective and whether or not we should fund Border Patrol?” Abbot asked. “What would happen if we didn’t fund Border Patrol? It would be open-border season. That’s what would happen. That’s why it’s necessary to fund Border Patrol. In fact, that’s what Congres needs to do. Congress needs to better fund Border Patrol. That will help secure the border.”
Abbott also pointed to his newly-created Domestic Terrorism Task Force. It’s comprised of experts to analyze and provide strategies to law enforcement agencies in Texas to protect against acts of domestic terrorism. The task force will hold its first roundtable meeting with Abbott on Friday, Aug. 30.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro delivered to response to Abbott’s remarks.
The Democratic Congressman from San Antonio said, “We could come together an enact real, comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that families remain together and those who live in fear can come out of the shadows.”
Castro added that immigration reform, healthcare reform and gun control will make for a “stronger, safer, healthier and more prosperous Texas.”