Friday, October 29, 2010

Evolution of Border Security in Texas

Leaders of Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition, Zapata Sheriff
Sigi Gonzalez & Hudspeth County Arvin West (r)/Tom Barry

(Part of a Border Lines series on outsourcing border security in Texas.)

“There can be no homeland security without border security.” That’s dogma in Texas, and repeated constantly by Governor Rick Perry and DPS Director Steve McCraw.

But it hasn’t always been the official line about homeland security in Texas.

Before Steve McCraw joined the governor’s staff in August 2004 as homeland security chief and head of the Governor’s Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), homeland security strategy in Texas wasn’t much different than other states that developed first responder and counterterrorism strategies in concert with the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

Gov. Perry open the first Texas Homeland Security Strategy Plan (January 2004) noting that “Texas has used the national strategy as a model for developing a statewide plan,” explaining that President Bush (who preceded Perry as Texas governor) had called on states and local governments to “implement compatible security strategies.”

The 2004 homeland security strategy of Texas had a clear focus on working with the federal government to prevent foreign terrorism and to respond to homeland disasters.

There is no mention of immigrants or criminal aliens, no talk of the threat of narcoterrorism, drug cartels, or transnational gangs, and no discussion of border crime, spillover violence, or narcotics flows.

The collaborative, we’re-all-in-it-together tone of the 2004 homeland strategy plan is startling in retrospect, now that the governor and McCraw have come to favor a go-it-alone, blame-Washington posture.

It’s worth quoting from Gov. Perry’s introduction to the security plan to observe the contrast in focus and tone between then and now. Since then there has also been less talk of the need to cooperation and a new confrontational posture.

Since 2004 Texas has set out to develop its own homeland security strategies, particularly in intelligence and border security, that run parallel to similar federal operations, albeit tapping federal grants to underwrite these Lone Star border security initiatives.

 The governor wrote that “recognizing that state and local governments play important roles in these efforts, the national plan challenges us ‘to develop interconnected and complementary systems that are reinforcing rather than duplicative.’”

“Our first goal must be to do everything within our power to prevent a terrorist attack,” wrote Perry. “That is why our effort to coordinate communication among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies is so vital.”

The first homeland security strategy plan did have sections on intelligence and border security. Yet, like the entire document, both sections focused on foreign terrorism.

The objective of local and state intelligence, as set out in the “Intelligence and Warning” section, was to help prevent a terrorist attack by providing alerts based mainly on the “receipt, analysis, and dissemination of criminal intelligence.” There was no mention of fusion centers, joint intelligence centers, border crime mapping, or ambitious data mining projects.

Border fence west of El Paso/Tom Barry

The central focus of the border security section was increased monitoring traffic through sea and land ports-of-entry, regarded then as the most likely entry points for

The page-long section on border security – compared with the five pages devoted to protecting critical infrastructure and four pages to emergency response – includes discussion of response to disasters or terrorist attacks on Texas sea ports.

With respect to the vast international border with Mexico, the strategy plan makes no mention of “sealing the border,” as is the current commitment, but instead addresses the connection between homeland security and border security through training plans to secure border petroleum installations. The plan also mentions that the governor’s office launched a $1.5 million Border Security Intelligence Network.

The 2004 strategy plan concludes with mention of the state’s cosponsoring of a Border Terrorism Conference. In marked contrast to the deeply anti-Mexican tone current border security strategizing by the governor’s office, this conference brought together U.S. and Mexican officials.

The first homeland security strategy plan in Texas may be said to represent one of the last times that homeland security and border security policies in Texas weren’t manifestly politicized issues.

It was also before the governor’s office began outsourcing the new border security, intelligence, and data-exchange operations launched from his office. It was prior, too, to the appointment of Steve McCraw as chief of the governor’s homeland security office.

In 2004-2005 the national attention began to turn from foreign to domestic issues. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan no longer dominated the national news, and public and policymaker alarm about the foreign terrorist threat was fading. The previously widespread consensual support for President Bush’s “Global War Against Terrorism” was also eroding.

At the same time, immigration and immigrant-rights advocates were starting to mobilize in support of a comprehensive immigration reform. But the grassroots backlash against illegal immigration was deepening, and immigration restrictionist institutes in Washington began seeing widening support for their “enforcement-first” and immigration-crackdown positions.

In Texas, conservative politicians, like Sen. John Cornyn together with an array of white, non-border Texas Republican representatives, became national voices for get-tough policies on immigration and the border. The creation of the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition in the spring of 2005 also signaled the emergence of immigration enforcement and border security as popular political issues.

Facing a reelection vote in November 2006, Perry in 2005 began to bolster his border security credentials.

Starting in 2005 homeland security and border security for the state of Texas were no longer issues considered mostly in the implementation of Department of Homeland Security grants.

Newly identified homeland security threats as illegal immigrants, illegal drugs, and border crime became central to political campaign strategies.

Led by the governor’s office, these issues also drove an array of multimillion dollar intelligence, data-sharing, and border security projects, mostly outsourced to private firms such as Northrop Grumman, APPRISS, and Abrams Learning and Information Systems. 

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