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Texas Lawmakers Push for Better Coordination With Feds at Border After NBC 5 Investigation

Security officials along Texas-Mexico border trying to head off another crisis this summer

(Published Thursday, June 2, 2016)

Lawmakers are calling for more help from the United States Border Patrol after an NBC 5 investigation uncovered new records showing the Border Patrol is sometimes slow to respond to border incursions.

In an interview, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Chairman of the U.S. House Homeland SecurityCommittee, said he believes the Border Patrol should do more to coordinate with Texas security forces deployed to the border, including the Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers.

“We should be working federal, state and local together to help get operations control of that border. We don’t have that right now,” said McCaul.

McCaul’s comments come after an NBC 5 investigation discovered documents showing Border Patrol agents did not respond sometimes in cases where Texas troops called the Border Patrol for help. In other cases, the Border Patrol arrived too late to make an arrest.

The Texas National Guard records were obtained through an open records request.

As part of “Operation Strong Safety,” guard troops have been stationed along the border as observers for nearly two years.

McCaul also expressed concern about a letter written by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-TX, last year.

In that letter, Kerlikowske said the Border Patrol “declined participation” in the state of Texas border mission.

“That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” said McCaul.

Meanwhile, in the Rio Grande Valley there are new concerns that it could be a long hot summer on the Texas-Mexico border.

Some security officials fear another wave of Central American immigrants similar to 2013, when families and unaccompanied children poured across the border, taxing the Border Patrol’s resources.

Last week, the Border Patrol staged a major media event designed to discourage Central Americans from making the dangerous border crossing this summer.

The event included a mock rescue staged for the cameras in Brooks County.

More than 60 illegal immigrants have been found dead in Brooks County since the fall, many from dehydration and the elements. 

“One of the things that we're very much focused on highlighting is the dangers the smugglers expose the people to,” said Chief Manuel Padilla, of the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector.

Some state lawmakers are also expressing frustration with the current border situation.

“We want to be effective and productive,” said Texas State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

Huffines believes Texas deserves better cooperation from the feds, especially with the state spending millions on a mission that’s typically a federal responsibility.

“It’s the job of the federal government and they’re not doing their job and they haven’t been doing their job,” said Huffines. 

“We’re hoping the numbers will come down, but I’m very concerned we’re going to see the same problem we saw before,” said Congressman McCaul.

McCaul told NBC 5 Investigates he will push the Border Patrol’s leadership to better coordinate with Texas officials, and McCaul suggested he might use congressional hearings to highlight the state’s concerns.

“We can call witnesses from the guard and DPS about this and hopefully they will be willing to testify before the American people about this,” said McCaul.

The Border Patrol did not respond to questions for this story.

In the past the agency has said the rough terrain along the border can sometimes slow responses when the National Guard calls for help. The agency has said it values its relationships with the Texas National Guard and DPS.

For more than a month NBC 5 Investigates has requested an interview with Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske.

In an e-mail a CBP spokesperson said the agency is working to facilitate an interview, but it was not clear if the interview would be with Kerlikowske or another Border Patrol official.

When NBC 5 Investigates visited the Rio Grande Valley this spring, the team observed Border Patrol agents and Texas National Guard troops trying to help each other on the ground level. Federal and state officials also work out of a joint command center in the region. 

But at the top levels, the Border Patrol and the state of Texas have no formal memorandum of understanding or concept of operation agreement to cooperate nearly two years into the state’s border mission.

Jon Wittman, a spokesman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, said the Texas National Guard and DPS are “collaborating with the U.S. Border Patrol.” But Wittman criticized the Obama administration for providing a “lack of resources” to the Border Patrol.

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