State should define goals for border initiatives

Breanne Deppisch

This summer, Texans watched as Gov. Rick Perry ordered a controversial surge of additional troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Crafted in an attempt to solidify the porous border between the two countries, this $30 million border surge was staggering in both its size and its scope — but it was certainly not the first of its kind. Perry ordered a similar plan of action in 2008, when related hold-ups in Washington led a frustrated governor to act independently. These border surges are costly, far-reaching and dangerous. So as history repeats itself, and Texas acts in spite of, a federal government paralyzed by partisan gridlock, we must ask ourselves: How effective are these controversial border surges?

It’s difficult to measure success or failure of these attempts to curb illegal immigration along the border, likely because a clear metric does not exist. Instead, the state is forced to measure results retroactively: examining reduction of crimes thought to be a result of this illegal movement, such as human trafficking, smuggling and kidnappings. It’s a measure of effects, not causes, thus the result of the surge will be a hazy picture at best. And when we lack a formal definition of the problem we are trying to eradicate, potential of “success” takes on a slippery and immeasurable form.

“Why is there not a goal here?” asked Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. “Or am I just naive?”

Certainly, these surges have done well to curb levels of drug trafficking, and mitigate isolated problems. But whether any substantial underlying restoration has taken shape is yet to be determined. And until then, it is a complex and costly venture to redress. In addition to Texas’s notable expenditure, the federal government has spent a whopping $3.5 billion on the border in 2014 — more than double the amount of previous decades. Experts say the spike can be attributed to changing innovations of smuggling activity.

Perry certainly trumpeted the successes of his 2008 endeavor, boasting the “plunging crime rates” and preventative measures for criminal activity across the board. But his efforts have since been highly contested. His research team failed to utilize a uniform crime rate, or account for urban areas with higher retention of border residents. And again, the question of metrics comes into play. Can we declare victory when drug seizures increase, citing a more effective and readily available law enforcement, or is our aim to ultimately reduce the numbers, ostensibly predicating a drop in drug trafficking? Texas officials are unable to agree — and often use the vague “unknowableness” of this data to propagate party agenda or political goals.

By failing to define clear goals for statewide border initiatives, the possibility of partisan accountability is lost. Politicians can spin these border issues however they please — and as a result, they reduce the pressing nature of a national crisis to another frustrating cog in the political machine.

Deppisch is a government senior from League City.