GALVESTON COUNTY – While final details have not been hashed out, Galveston and Montgomery County officials announced they will send local resources to the southern border.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry joined 28 other counties Tuesday by issuing a disaster declaration in response to what is happening along the border.
“No one believes the illegal immigration stops as soon as they cross the river. They know they come north,” said Henry. “We have already seen some results of drug trafficking, of human trafficking, of increased violence.”
Henry ordered a task force of Galveston County law enforcement to head to the border to “assess what they can do to assist the state.”
“That’s not going to leave the community short on coverage?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
“No, that is the first requirement,” said Henry.
Henry added that only those law enforcement officers who volunteer will go to the border. Henry plans to have reserve peace officers fill the vacancies. Henry said he does not yet know how many law enforcement officers will be sent to the border, but that 25 people have volunteered so far. Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset told KPRC 2 he is already at the border working out details.
Trochesset said 28 inmates in his jail are in the country illegally and charged with committing local crimes.
“You’re not being directly impacted by what’s happening on the border, so why take this kind of a stance?” asked Arnold.
“Very fair question. First of all, we have seen bi-partisan cries for help from the border counties,” said Henry.
Henry said he’ll use funds from the federal American Rescue Plan to pay for Galveston law enforcement helping out on the border. The Rescue Plan involved the federal government sending $350 billion to state and local municipalities to help offset the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Henry said Galveston County received $66 million from the federal government. Henry said he is also pledging up to $6 million of this money to help pay for a border wall if Gov. Greg Abbott can come up with a definitive plan.
“That money couldn’t be spent here in Galveston County?” asked Arnold.
“I would argue this is being spent here, it’s just not being spent here in this county. It’s being spent for the betterment of this county,” said Henry.
“The federal government sent this money for public health issues, so how are you using this for the border then?” asked Arnold.
“Because we consider it to be a public health crisis,” said Henry.
Texas Congressional Democratic leaders are already pushing back on this effort. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) gave a statement to KPRC 2 saying:
“When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, it was with the intention that states’ and local governments would use their allocations to assist with economic and job recovery from the pandemic. Using these federal dollars for the governor’s alleged border security measures - whether that be a border wall or the reprioritization of law enforcement - is an unjustified misuse of funds and a disservice to hard-working American families. The rhetoric that our border communities are crime-ridden due to the humanitarian crisis we’re facing is a false narrative. In fact, according to the most recent FBI statistics, Houston has a violent crime rate of 1072 per 100,000 population. The reality is that our border communities are safer than most metropolitan areas.”
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, 13 Democratic congressional officials wrote, “We are concerned by the prospect of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s potential misuse of these funds to continue the misguided plans of President Trump to extend a wall along the border between Texas and Mexico.”
The Texas Democrats are asking the secretary to make it clear these COVID-related funds cannot be used for the construction of Texas’ border wall.
Associate professor of constitutional law at the South Texas College of Law, Josh Blackman, said the Biden administration could wind up challenging Texas’ plan for the border.
“I think that it’s very likely that the Biden administration will argue that they can’t help at the border, there’s nothing for them to do,” said Blackman. “The Biden administration could sue Texas and these various counties for interfering with federal law.”
Interim chair of Texas Southern University’s political science department, Dr. Michael Adams, said the Governor’s plans may also be more about the 2022 election, than securing the border.
“You simply campaign on issues that will resonate,” said Adams. “These kinds of things appeal to individuals that will turn out on election day.”
Montgomery County Commissioners also voted to send jailers to the border as part of Governor Abbott’s call to prosecute immigrants who cross the border illegally and commit crimes like trespassing. Both of these announcements come just before Gov. Abbott hosts former President Donald Trump on a tour of unfinished portions of the wall in the Rio Grande Valley.