Texas legislators call for special session on border security
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said Monday that he and other conservative lawmakers are urging the state's Republican leadership to call a special legislative session to address the influx of undocumented immigrants in South Texas.
The move comes after an online petition was launched last week urging Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to call legislators back to Austin to deal with the issue. Stickland said he did not start the petition but is aware of it. It has also been tweeted by state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, whose office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
"I know there are a lot of legislators talking with each other figuring out what we need to do," Stickland said.
Perry's office said the governor has been raising concerns since 2012 to President Obama about an increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border. His office said it's obvious the administration still does not have a "handle on the problem." The governor's office did not rule out a special session.
Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Perry, said in an email that the issue is a result of an unsecured border with Mexico.
"That's why Texas has put hundreds of millions of dollars into personnel and resources to fill in where the federal government has failed," she said. "Gov. Perry has also signed on to a letter with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst directing DPS to conduct a border surge operation in the coming months. This letter is awaiting approval from Speaker Straus. As he does with calls for special session on any issue, the governor will take this into consideration."
Asked about the special session, Dewhurst's office said lawmakers should consider resuming Texas Department of Public Safety operations that he said have proved effective at securing the border. Dewhurst cited last fall's "Operation Strong Safety," which added more state-based security in the Rio Grande Valley.
"Back in December, I proposed applying the lessons learned in Operation Strong Safety to fund a sustained DPS surge to stabilize the border region," he said in a statement. "Gov. Perry has expressed his support for this approach, especially in light of the growing unaccompanied minor situation caused by President Obama's irresponsible rhetoric. We can no longer wait on the federal government to meet its responsibilities on border security. The State of Texas should resume the DPS surge operations and shut down the border now for the good of our state and our nation."
Dewhurst spokesman Andrew Barlow added that an agreement to ramp up DPS efforts would "render a special session unnecessary at this time."
Straus' office did not mention a special session but said the speaker was working with Perry, Dewhurst and DPS.
"Speaker Straus and his staff have been in frequent contact with DPS leaders, as well as local officials from the Rio Grande Valley, about the influx of unaccompanied minors coming into Texas," Straus spokeswoman Erin Daly said in an email.
"Speaker Straus is working with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and DPS to formulate a plan to immediately address this issue."
Last week Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state's Republican gubernatorial candidate, wrote U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and asked for $30 million for a state-based border security initiative. The U.S. Border Patrol, he said, was overwhelmed by the influx of undocumented immigrants, including about 160,000 who have crossed into Texas in the U.S. Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector since October, including about 33,500 unaccompanied minors.
"With the Border Patrol's focus shifted to this crisis, we have grave concerns that dangerous cartel activity, including narcotics smuggling and human trafficking, will go unchecked because Border Patrol resources are stretched too thin," he wrote.
Stickland said he and others would consider tapping into the state's Rainy Day Fund for the state-based border security initiative if the federal government did not provide relief. Details of the plan would probably be debated should a special session be called, he added.
"This is a crisis situation depending on who you are talking to," he said. "I haven't heard any price tag — I have just heard people say this is a top priority. Depending on what we're talking about, there are a number of different ideas. We need to start having these discussions and start figuring out what's on the table."
"What we are dealing with is an influx of children fleeing from Central American violence; imagine a situation so dire that you allow your children to travel a dangerous journey — thousands of miles — to a foreign land," he said. "What is needed are not more "boots on the ground" or any other euphemisms for the militarization that both impacts border residents' daily lives and is inadequate to deal with the specific issue at hand."