AUSTIN - The Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety met this morning to discuss Texas' ability to execute effective crisis management programs associated with the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force and Hospital Preparedness Program. The committee also discussed Chairman Joe Pickett's (D-El Paso) draft legislation that would encompass the committee's recommendations compiled from their investigation into the West ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion and subsequent fire in Athens, Texas. There was consensus among committee members that the safe storage and handling of ammonium nitrate is a serious issue and must be addressed. While some felt the need for additional regulation across the board, the challenge will be to not add overbearing regulation to the agriculture industry or unfunded mandates to cities or counties.
There was no denying the energy in the room surrounding Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), who was invited to testify on the current border operations. With circumstances on the Texas-Mexico border changing by the hour, Director McCraw offered a candid, detailed and factual analysis of what his department is facing since Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and Speaker Joe Straus issued a "surge" of DPS troopers to the southern border at the cost of nearly $1.3 million a week. Director McCraw referred to this surge as a "saturation", or a multiagency effort to help assist United States Border Patrol (USBP) in closing the gaps that have allowed drug cartels to traffic humans, drugs, and a large number of unaccompanied minors through to Texas.
McCraw clarified the mission of DPS, as well as the authority of Texas when looking to secure the Texas-Mexico border and protect its citizens. Director McCraw explained that Texas cannot enforce federal immigration policy and is therefore obligated to hand any apprehended individuals over to the United State Board Patrol (USPB) for processing. However, with an upswing in enforcement agents from DPS, McCraw is hopeful there will also be a surge in apprehensions and a decline in cartel activity. "It must be a multiagency effort," he stated. The Director said he was pleased with the cooperation from local law enforcement as well as with the relationships he has established with USBP personnel.
Representative Flynn, a senior member of the committee, offered clarity to the issue after the committee adjourned, "Texas is restricted by federal law to only engage in the efforts we are currently involved in. If border patrol releases any illegal immigrants into Texas, we cannot deport them without violating federal law. The simple solution I hear offered by so many is in fact not so simple," Representative Flynn reflected, "To let them in, or not let them in, is not our choice at this time. We need only look to the lawsuits Arizona faced when it decided to take immigration matters into its own hands after realizing the administration in Washington would do nothing."
The committee also heard from Dr. David Lakey, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services; McAllen Mayor, Jim Darling; and McAllen Chief of Police, Victor Rodriguez who have all been working together closely. Commissioner Lakey said he had developed a sound relationship with The Office of Refugee Resettlement and other departments responsible for overseeing the humane treatment of the unaccompanied children apprehended by border patrol.
Chief Rodriguez offered a short history lesson, and possible explanation for why the surge in illegal immigration into Texas and the United States seems unprecedented in recent years. Rodriguez reminded committee members, and those in the audience, that during the Central American Refugee Crisis of 1980 USBP required all apprehended illegal immigrants to remain in the region they were apprehended, namely the Rio Grande Valley, until they received a court hearing date. In contrast, current immigration policy allows apprehended illegal immigrants who have been granted "permisos" to travel wherever in the United States they desire and voluntarily select which immigration office they "promise to appear" to receive their court date notice. This of course has proven to be another failed Federal policy.
Representative Flynn echoed the concerns of many members upon hearing this protocol, "Suddenly this is not just a border state issue. When other states realize what is happening, they will shut down and the burden will fall entirely to Texas," remarked Representative Flynn. "I am confident in the abilities of Director McCraw and all the DPS personnel tasked with helping to saturate our borders and deter further illegal immigrants and children from crossing our borders illegally. I want to thank DPS, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the local law enforcement that are working together to keep their communities and their state safe and secure during this time."
Flynn continued, "While many may believe not enough is being done, I feel Director McCraw did an outstanding job assuring the committee that the Border issues are being addressed and that he has been given the tools needed to contend with the crisis at this time. The bottom line is simple, the Administration in Washington needs to step up and properly address the concerns of Texans and Americans, and that is to secure our border."