AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Disputed traffic checkpoints along the Texas border that critics accused of targeting immigrants who are in the country without legal documentation are no longer running, but questions remain about the 3-week-old initiative defended by state authorities as way to combat unsafe drivers.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger confirmed this weekend the agency had finished the enforcement push in the Rio Grande Valley, where troopers were also said to be looking to put a dent in other border-related crimes, such as human smuggling and kidnapping.
DPS encountered opposition and skepticism about the roadblocks from the start, including from some lawmakers who questioned why checkpoints weren't in bigger Texas cities.
"The law enforcement initiative was completed, as planned," Vinger told the San Antonio Express-News.
DPS has so far declined to make public details of how many arrests or citations were made, or if property had been confiscated at the roadblocks, the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1acMAUy ) reported Sunday. The agency had promised a full accounting of the effort when it was finished.
DPS cited roadway safety as a principal reason why troopers randomly stopped motorists throughout the Rio Grande Valley, and installed the first such checkpoints in Texas in in two decades.
But the newspaper's analysis of state traffic data found that Hidalgo and Cameron counties, which were singled out by DPS during the roadblock operation, trails cities like Houston, Laredo and Midland in crashes per mile traveled.
Hidalgo and Cameron counties had fatal crash rates below the state average in 2012, based on per capita crashes, which are used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to measure public health impact. Under statistics provided by the state using the miles traveled metric, Cameron ranks 33rd out of 39 counties with more than 100,000 residents. Hidalgo ranks 13th.
Vinger told the newspaper crash data wasn't used as a deciding factor for checkpoint locations. He instead emphasized the roadblocks' use in targeting unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
According to DPS, the South Texas area that is home to large numbers of immigrants living in the country illegally led the state in no driver's license citations, and is second to Houston for no insurance tickets.
DPS has taken an aggressive stance in defending the checkpoints, stating that the goal was "enforcing traffic regulatory compliance is to make the roadways safer for all travelers."
Some border officials had questioned whether the department's stated reason for installing checkpoints in the Rio Grande Valley was genuine.
"Where are the checkpoints in Houston?" asked Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. He pointed to Harris County, which ranks first among Texas counties for uninsured drivers and had a higher overall crash rate than the Rio Grande Valley.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com