AUSTIN, Texas (TRIBUNE) -- It’s still too soon to tell if the Trump administration’s ramped up border-security efforts will allow Texas to scale back its own state-funded surge operations, the state’s top law enforcement officer told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steve McCraw said that uncertainty is due, in part, to the time it takes to hire and train more federal agents. The Trump administration said in an executive order signed earlier this month that part of its border-security plan was to hire at least 5,000 additional U.S. Border Patrol agents.
“It’s always been our strategic intent to work ourselves out of it,” McCraw said of the state’s operation during a House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee hearing at the Capitol. “We’re hopeful and mindful it will happen sooner than later. [But] I can’t tell you a date.”
The director’s testimony comes as the state’s budget writers are debating whether to greenlight hundreds of millions of dollars for a continued border surge that began in 2014 when tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants began arriving in Texas after illegally crossing the Rio Grande.
Lawmakers approved a record $800 million in 2015 for border security, and the department has requested about $300 more for the next biennium. The proposed Texas Senate budget keeps the original amount in place, but the House proposal slashes that to about $663 million.
McCraw was also asked about the state’s efforts to recoup some of the funds Texas has spent on border security. Days before Trump took office the Texas House Republican Caucus announced it was sending a final bill to the Obama administration for more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013.
The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million) and the Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million).
State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said last month the gesture was a final “political dig” at President Obama. On Tuesday, Blanco asked McCraw what the status of that request was now with a Republican president in office.
“My purpose was to highlight the way they’ve politicized border security,” Blanco said after the hearing. “Are we wasting the taxpayers' time by having these press conferences and having these political digs, or are they serious about getting that reimbursement?”