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By G. Romero Wendorf

Texas DPS vs. Border Patrol? That was the headline to our front-page Observations column two weeks ago. Are the two agencies going to battle it out? And if so, what kind of odds do the RGV bookies got going? Not that there’s any illegal betting going on in South Texas. Cock fights don’t count, of course.

Seriously, the Observations headline had to  do  with  a  story  that appeared in the Sept. 6, 2015 issue of The Houston Chronicle detailing the alleged conflict between the two agencies – Texas DPS and U.S. Border Patrol -- that had to deal with how best to patrol the Rio Grande River and put a stop to the illegal immigrants and illegal contraband that cross it on a daily basis.

According to The Chronicle story, DPS troopers are under the assumption that their main mission is to stop the contraband flow before it makes it to this side of the river. Whereas, the Border Patrol’s mission, at least as it was portrayed in the Chronicle story, is to wait until the illegal immigrants and/or drugs arrive on U.S. soil, take them into custody and process the entire lot.

The question then becomes, if The Houston Chronicle story was properly portrayed, and one has to assume it was and not taken out of context, at least for the sake of argument, what is the real point of border security? Who’s right? The DPS or the feds?

Texas, like it or not, is taking a hard line on border security. And its legislature, controlled by conservative Republicans for the most part, voted earlier this year to approve spending $800 million over the next two years to shore up law enforcement in the RGV. The governor then signed the whole enchilada into law.

The $800 million will include expenditures on such things as paychecks for 250 new state troopers; $116 million so that two dozen Rangers can investigate public corruption (as if that even exists in South Texas); $72 million so that Texas National Guard troops can be kept along the border for the next 24 months to help patrol it and keep the peace; $35 million in grants to local law enforcement agencies to help shore up their manpower and resources; millions more to construct a 5,000-acre training facility for border law-enforcement agencies; a new border crime data center; and a second high-altitude plane (cost $7.5 million) to scan the border area for suspicious activities.

Shortly after that Sept. 16th Observations column was published, I got a call from a U.S. Border Patrol spokeswoman. Apparently, for whatever reason, the DPS had sent her a copy of my column just to make sure she saw it.

Nice woman, she tells me that she read the column and was thinking, oh, no, no, no, that’s not what we’re about. We do a lot of nice things, she said.

As if I were painting the Border Patrol in a bad light, which was not my intent. My intention was to ask the question: what is the federal government’s mission along our southern border? Catch and release? If the illegal immigrants don’t have a criminal record in the U.S. (they could include a serial rapist in Honduras and we’d have no way of knowing), does the Border Patrol simply release them if they tell the agents they have a cousin, a primo, named Juan who lives in Chicago and the mom and her three teen sons can go live there?

In other words, what’s the mission of the U.S. Border Patrol in today’s modern times? To secure the border, stop things from entering this country illegally, or serve as a baby sitter to those who make it across?

Earlier this month, the chief of the Border Patrol agents’ labor union, Brandon Judd, told Congress that less than half the U.S./Mexico border is under its “operational control,” and one out of every five illegal immigrants caught has a criminal record (Washington Times, Sept. 9, 2015).

“This is the challenge we are facing at the border today,” he said. “There are those who will point to lower apprehension rates and tell you the border is secure. Border Patrol agents, however, throughout this nation will tell you the border is not secure, and the southwest border certainly is not safe. (Washington Times)”

The Border Patrol spokeswoman wanted to reassure me that there was no riff between DPS and the agency for which she worked.

“We work well together,” she said. But she was worried that I wasn’t giving The Advance readers a full measure of all the good that the Border Patrol agents accomplish during their tour of duty.

“But I do,” I said. “I publish stories about how your agents rescue immigrants in the brush, and how you save lives. And how you catch drug traffickers and coyotes. But tell me. What exactly is the Border Patrol’s mission? Is it to stop people before they come across the river? Or to let them cross and then take them into custody?

After a few seconds, she said, well, every case is different.

But then she invited me for a ride-along. Go with some of the agents who patrol the river and see what they actually do.

“I’d love to go,” I told her. “I think your agents have a tough job, and I admire them for the most part. I’m just not sure that the mission given to them coming out of Washington is clear. And I think their morale is at an all-time low.”

So, with any luck, later this week, I’ll be riding along the river.

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