Human trafficking and border crime highlighted in Texas governor’s 5-year security plan

Border Report Tour

4,500 motion-activated low-cost game cameras mounted on border; security experts say it's a bipartisan effort with heavy federal support

Gov. Greg Abbott hosted a roundtable discussion on public safety that focused on cities that defund police departments and bail reform. (KXAN photo/Frank Martinez)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has released a five-year security plan for the state that includes an emphasis on ending human trafficking, thwarting drug cartels and reducing crime on the southern border, and he indicated a fear of reduced federal enforcement assistance during the Biden administration, which security experts tell Border Report is unfounded.

The Texas Homeland Security Strategic Plan 2021-2025 is a “framework for our efforts to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from attacks and disasters,” Abbott wrote in an introductory letter with the report released Friday. “It serves as a guide to focus our efforts in building, sustaining, and employing a wide variety of critical homeland security capabilities.”

Included in the 93-page report are 25 objectives and 123 priority actions, including several pertaining to border security. Major security goals the report lays out include:

  • Preventing terrorist attacks and organized crime.
  • Reducing vulnerability to criminal attacks and natural and technological disasters and having mitigating plans in place.
  • Increasing the state’s response system to threats and disasters.
  • Ensuring rapid and complete community recovery after attacks or disasters.

“We will do everything possible to keep Texans safe & secure from any threat,” Abbott tweeted after releasing the report.

The report highlights security concerns at the Texas/Mexico border, specifically “cross border mass migration” and devising plans to cope with a caravan or onslaught of undocumented migrants, as well as the interdiction of drug cartels that are infiltrating Texas soil.

Mexican drug cartels are blamed for fueling drugs and human trafficking and other crimes that affect border communities. The state must “dismantle the command and control networks of the cartels and affiliated criminal organizations operating in the state,” the report says. “Border-related crime poses a significant threat to Texas and the nation as a whole. Mexican cartels and affiliated trafficking organizations and gangs exploit the Texas-Mexico border to dominate drug and human trafficking in the border region, and their networks impact public safety throughout the country.”

Police stand guard on Feb. 12, 2020, behind sandbags, at the entrance to Santa Rosa de Lima, birthplace of a local cartel that goes by the same name, in Guanajuato state, Mexico. Mexico’s fastest-rising cartel, the Jalisco New Generation gang, has a reputation for ruthlessness and violence unlike any since the fall of the old Zetas cartel. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The report advocates working with federal and local law enforcement to combat cartels. But it notes that the state is concerned about limited federal resources during the Biden administration.

“Border security, especially in the absence of increased federal resources, will remain a major public safety concern in Texas,” the report state.

Doris Meissner was INS commissioner under President Bill Clinton. (Courtesy Photo)

Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton, and now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., told Border Report it is not fair for Texas officials to doubt whether the past bipartisan federal border security investments that have been made on the U.S./Mexico boundary will continue.

“Border enforcement has been the object of enormous investment by the U.S. government for many years,” Meissner said Wednesday.

Meissner said that $26 billion is spent annually on immigration enforcement, which is more than the combined fiscal budgets for the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, ATF and Marshals, “and by one-third more.”

“We are investing an extraordinary amount of effort as a country and as a society in effective border enforcement so I think it’s very hard to argue that somehow this has not been a priority and it’s been a priority for Democrats and Republicans both in the White House and Congress,” Meissner said.

In Texas cartels are operating but they’re not fighting for control over territory. They’re not engaging directly with law enforcement or the military like they are in Mexico.”

Ben West, global security analyst with Stratfor

Ben West, a senior global security analyst with Stratfor, told Border Report that because of successful border enforcement efforts, the criminal cartels keep a relatively low profile and presence on the U.S. side and keep their territorial fights south of the border in order to keep their businesses thriving.

“In painting a picture of violence in Mexico versus violence in Texas, violence in Mexico is cartels actually fighting over territory — in some cases entire states. The government is actually struggling to maintain territory. That’s obviously not the state in Texas, where cartels are operating but they’re not fighting for control over territory. They’re not engaging directly with law enforcement or the military like they are in Mexico,” West said. “It is much more a business-endeavor and they’re not going to jeopardize that.”

Meissner added that border security issues also involve criminal activity from the United States going south of the border.

“It isn’t just things coming north from south of us that fall into that realm. It’s things that the U.S. is exporting in the other direction, principally guns and how it is that feeds into violence in Mexico and south of Mexico,” Meissner said.

A camera is seen in a tree at the San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary in rural Zapata County, on the border with Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

On. Jan. 21, Texas state Sen. Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, filed a bill that requests $57.6 million in state funds for prevention, detection and victim services associated with human trafficking as part of the state’s fiscal 2022-23 biennial budget.

Funds for low-cost motion-activated game cameras placed on the border also were advocated in Abbott’s report to continue in upcoming years. This is part of Operation Drawbridge, which “capture and report drug and human smuggling events in real time, with instant target confirmation,” the report says.

There are 4,500 cameras currently deployed, which in the previous five years — from January 2015 to July 2020 — led to the seizure of 372,461 pounds of drugs, the apprehension of 286,528 undocumented migrants, and the arrest of hundreds of criminal gang members, including MS-13 gang members in the Rio Grande Valley.

A mobile surveillance tower camera is seen at a Border Security Expo held in San Antonio last March. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The increased use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) also are credited with helping to “detect and respond to border incursions, criminal smuggling attempts, and other incidents across the state.”

Biden has said he advocates for “smart border” security, and has put a pause on border wall construction for 60 days. But it is widely expected that he will equip border communities with more sensors and technology and UAS devices in the coming months.

West said ambiguity in what border enforcement will mean in the upcoming months and years is an advantage for drug and criminal organizations.

“Cartels benefit from the fact that there’s a lot of political uncertainty over how to deal with border security,” West said. “There’s not political momentum to address that so they have this gray area where they can work in.”

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