NBC 5 Investigates: Some Crossing Border Escape While Texas National Guard Waits on Border Patrol

Records suggest a lack of coordination between state and feds could hurt border mission

An NBC 5 investigation uncovered documents that suggest some people illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border escaped capture because of a lack of coordination between the Texas National Guard and the United States Border Patrol.

The state of Texas has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to send the Texas National Guard to help secure the Texas/Mexico border.

In the summer of 2014, then-Gov. Rick Perry sent in the Texas National Guard saying if the feds couldn’t make the border secure then Texas soldiers would as part of Operation Strong Safety.

At Bastrop's Camp Swift in August 2014, Perry told National Guard members being deployed, “You are now the tip of the spear, protecting Americans from these cartels and gangs.”

Until now the state has released little information about what the guard’s mission has accomplished.

Through an open records request, NBC 5 Investigates obtained an incident log detailing what the guard has done.

The database shows that from August 2014 through the end of June 2015, the guard detected more than 10,000 people crossing illegally in the first 10 months of the mission.

But what’s not clear is exactly how many of those people were caught.

Records show about 1,700 people the guard spotted surrendered, and 600 turned back to Mexico after the guard spotted them, but what about the rest of the 10,000 people the guard detected?

Records show some of those 10,000 were captured. But the records also suggest more of those people might have been caught if the guard worked more closely with the U.S. Border Patrol.

The guard has no power to arrest anyone at the border, so when guard troops see people crossing illegally they often call the Border Patrol. But records show the Border Patrol doesn’t always respond quickly.

The records show one example where the National Guard reported nine undocumented people walking 200 meters from an observation post. The guard notified Border Patrol, who showed up an hour later and was unable to locate the people.

“By the time they respond -- many cases -- I'm sure these folks are going to be gone, said Ralph Basham, Former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner and founding partner of Command Consulting Group, an international security consulting firm.

Basham was in charge of the Border Patrol under President George W. Bush. He said the National Guard can be a great asset at the border, but because the guard cannot make arrests they are more effective when Border Patrol agents are positioned nearby in close coordination.

“It has to be coordinated. They have to train together. In my opinion, they have to be able to communicate. They need to be embedded so that coordination is effective,” said Basham.

But the incident reports often suggest poor coordination in South Texas.

Many times records show the Border Patrol did not respond when the guard called or they simply say “BP advised” or “BP notified.” There's no indication if Border Patrol responded or not.

"They detect it and there is no supporting entity to take action - what's the value of it?” questioned David Aguilar, Former CBP Commissioner.

David Aguilar was Chief of the Border Patrol under President George W. Bush, head of Customs and Border Protection under President Barack Obama and is a co-founder of Global Security and Innovative Strategies, a strategic security consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Aguilar said when the guard spots people and the Border Patrol is not positioned to respond rapidly, more people crossing illegally will get away.

That knowledge may also embolden the drug cartels and human smugglers.

“That's a horrible message to be sent back into Mexico. Because all that will do is increase the criminal activity,” said Aguilar.

“In many cases where we called in observations the Border Patrol did respond,” said Texas National Guard Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton.

Hamilton, who commands the Texas National Guard mission, told NBC 5 Investigates his troops work well with the Border Patrol on the ground, but he admits coordinating with the feds is not his top priority.

“I mean the reason we went down there was not, well we weren't there to directly support the Border Patrol,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton said his job is to support the hundreds of Department of Public Safety state troopers sent to the border along with the guard.

“We work for DPS. We are state active duty, state mission, state funded in Operation Strong Safety,” said Hamilton.

A mission that started because the state thought the Border Patrol didn't have enough staff to do the job.

“That's why the governor put us down there,” said Hamilton.

The Border Patrol declined an on-camera interview.

In a statement, the agency said it, "…values our relationships with federal, state, local and tribal partners, including the National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety."

But in a letter to Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro last year, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said his agency had "declined participation" in the state's border operation.

Today there is still no formal agreement between the Texas National Guard and the Border Patrol to work together.

Hamilton agreed it would make sense if more coordination was happening at the top levels, and said the state has tried to make that happen.

“I know that Gov. Perry tried to hand the president a plan on how to do that. I think you saw how that went,” said Hamilton.

Perry asked Obama to deploy troops under federal control but when the White House didn't do that the state chose to go it alone.

In March, NBC 5 Investigates traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to see what many of the guard troops are doing.

Many sit sitting in Humvees watching the border with spotting scopes. If they see something they call a command center that dispatches State Troopers or the Border Patrol.

That often sends Border Patrol agents scrambling along the river or over tough terrain. Border Patrol officials say the rugged landscape and lack of roads can slow them down sometimes when the National Guard or other agencies call.

Today, Brig. Gen. Hamilton said his troops are working better with the Border Patrol, putting people in a joint command center and trying to solve issues like the fact that the two agencies still can't talk to each other directly on their radios.

“The desire to work together to solve a problem on the Texas border has improved tremendously - and continues to improve - I think the challenges are more at the inside the beltway national level - that's my observation,” said Hamilton.

Under Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas has extended the Guard's mission, now known as Operation Secure Texas, where over time they will be replaced with more State Troopers.

Still without better coordination some border security experts fear -- the state's mission may not help as much as it could.

“A lack of coordination will make everybody's job harder - not just the border patrol,” said Aguilar.

The Texas National Guard now says it made a mistake when it released incident logs to NBC 5 Investigates. The guard is now asking the Texas Attorney General to prevent NBC 5 from getting more recent reports requested earlier this year. A sample of that data can be seen below.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is also fighting to keep NBC 5 Investigates from seeing records detailing what state troopers have done at the border. The Attorney General ruled the records should be released, but DPS is now suing to prevent that release.

Sample Data Obtained by NBC 5 Investigates


Contact Us