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Texas DPS: epicenter of border crisis is now San Diego, ‘we’d like to keep it that way’

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(The Center Square) – At a recent Texas Senate Committee hearing on border security and the progress of Texas’ border security mission, Operation Lone Star, officials discussed how state efforts have moved illegal entry west to New Mexico, Arizona and California.

When the border crisis first erupted in early 2021 after the Biden administration began implementing a range of policies, Texas border towns were overrun with crime and a volume of people taxing local resources. In March 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott created OLS, which has since expanded operations. In January 2023, he brought on a new “Border Czar,” Mike Banks to help lead Texas’ efforts after he served for decades in the U.S. Border Patrol.

Banks reiterated to the committee the success of OLS first reported on by The Center Square, that as Texas expanded its efforts, illegal entry increased in New Mexico, Arizona and California. In December 2022, Texas accounted for 60% of all cross-border traffic across the entire southwest border. By January 2024, that number dropped to only 29%, he said.

Within a year of joining OLS operations, Banks helped implement a “prevent, deter, interdict” approach to prevent illegal entry in addition to law enforcement interdiction efforts being carried out by Texas Department of Public Safety, other law enforcement officers and the Texas Military Department.

Their results have paid off, Banks said.

“Texas has seen an overall 74% decrease in illegal crossings since the beginning of Operation Lone Star in March 2021,” he said, citing U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Last month, the lowest number of illegal border crossings was reported in Texas in over two years, at under 34,000, he said.

In December 2022, there were 130,000 illegal border crossers reported in Texas in one month, or roughly 4,200 illegal entries a day, he said, citing CBP data. One year later, in January 2024, there were 35,900 illegal entries reported in Texas in one month, a 1,100 daily average, he said.

Major General Tom Sueltzer, Adjutant General for the State of Texas, said 97% of Operation Lone Star personnel have all volunteered to serve on the border and are engaged in a range of tactical operations by air, land and water. Texas National Guard members have constructed hundreds of miles of border barriers from Brownsville to El Paso, he said.This includes 72 miles of commercial-grade fence, 133 miles of concertina wire barricades and 30 miles of anti-climb fencing.

In the last two years, 18 states have deployed roughly 2400 National Guard troops to Texas to participate in OLS, he said.

Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw explained that border security challenges for Texas are different than for California. Texas shares 64% of the border with Mexico but only has 11% of the primary federal infrastructure, he said. Texas has a greater uphill battle to secure a border across extremely diverse terrain that spans 1,254 shared miles with Mexico, but multi-agency law enforcement efforts have paid off and morale is high, he said.

“The Rio Grande Valley has been the epicenter for smuggling going back decades,” he said. After Gov. Abbott directed resources there, by April 2022, the CBP Rio Grande Valley Sector was no longer leading the nation in illegal entries, he said.

Next, the bulk of illegal entries shifted west to Del Rio, then to El Paso, then to Tucson, Arizona, last year, and “right now, San Diego is leading the nation.” He notes that the CBP San Diego Sector only shares 11% of the border with Mexico but has the majority, 85%, of the federal infrastructure and is still being inundated by illegal entries.

“The center of gravity is San Diego,” he said, “and … we’d like to keep it that way.”

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