What’s actually happening on the Texas-Mexico border?
There are two competing narratives. When she visited El Paso on June 25, Vice President Kamala Harris said “we have seen extreme progress over these last few months.” But touring the Rio Grande Valley five days later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared “the Biden administration is completely failing” in securing America’s southern perimeter.
So which does the evidence support?
“Facts say the governor is right and make it difficult to figure out Ms. Harris’ definition of ‘extreme progress,’” says Kelly Hancock, Republican chairman of the state Senate Veterans Affairs and Border Security Committee. Mr. Hancock was on Mr. Abbott’s tour and attended briefings by Col. Steven McCraw, Texas Department of Public Safety director, and Texas sheriffs.
Customs and Border Protection numbers support Mr. Hancock’s observation. As of May, there had been 271,927 encounters—detentions or arrests of people illegally entering the U.S.—in the Rio Grande Valley this fiscal year, up 172% over fiscal 2018 at the same point. Further west, the Laredo sector has seen 76,670 encounters, up 250% over the numbers this time in the 2018 fiscal year. In the Del Rio sector there have been 118,314 encounters—a jump of 1,067%. Even in El Paso, where Ms. Harris declared “extreme progress,” the fiscal year’s total was 113,824 encounters, or a 563% increase year over year.
It’s getting worse. In May alone, there were 50,793 encounters in the valley, up by 190% over May 2018; 27,890 in the Del Rio sector, up 1,777%; and 22,219 in El Paso, up 533%.
The group traveling with Mr. Abbott heard more bad news. Col. McCraw reported that traffickers push large numbers of illegal aliens across the border in specific areas to tie up CBP with the slow task of processing and detaining all of them. Mexican cartels can then more easily smuggle drugs—cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine—and high-value clients into Texas through these temporarily less-secure corridors as well as sneak drug profits and guns into Mexico.
At the governor’s direction in early March, state troopers and National Guardsmen launched Operation Lone Star, which intensified patrols along the border. Since then the Texas DPS has already made 1,800 arrests for drug smuggling, human trafficking, car theft and other crimes, according to Col. McCraw. It’s also apprehended more than 45,000 illegal aliens, some members of transnational gangs. Others were previously found guilty of felonies and deported—including, in May and June, 19 illegal aliens earlier convicted of sex crimes and deported.
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn reported the crisis had reached some 500 miles north of the valley to affect his jurisdiction in the Dallas-Fort-Worth Metroplex. DPS estimates that there’s been a 2,000% increase in the amount of fentanyl—synthetic morphine but far more powerful—smuggled across the border, compared to the 2020 fiscal year. This has dropped the street price from $50 to $15 a hit, putting the drug within reach of a larger, younger clientele. This has already led to increased overdoses.
Brooks County Sheriff Urbino Martinez briefed the group about the growing number of ranchers in his South Texas jurisdiction who’ve found bodies of women and children abandoned by smugglers. His county has also seen a dramatic increase of petty crime, breaking and entering, and car theft.
The briefings convinced Mr. Hancock that if Washington won’t secure the perimeter, Texas must. After all, it’s the first to feel an open border’s ill effects. The state Legislature recently appropriated $1.1 billion to continue Operation Lone Star while Mr. Abbott redirected $250 million to keep building the border wall, first on property of cooperating landowners and then on land Texas had transferred to the federal government for the wall, which the governor has demanded be returned.
Until the border is secured, cartels will keep importing drugs and extorting money from desperate people. The trafficking of persons for sex or work will keep growing, with untold numbers of children forced into prostitution and more people of all ages imprisoned in sweatshops. The border crises will also undermine attempts to reform our immigration system, including resolving the status of the Dreamers, people brought here as children who know no country other than the U.S.