AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said the state’s border with Mexico is a disaster and wants to take matters into his own hands. He met former President Trump last week in front of an unfinished stretch of border wall.
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GREG ABBOTT: You look at that border, and you look at what you see? You see an unfinished border. It’s Biden’s fault because President Biden is not continuing what President Trump started.
CORNISH: And so Abbott vowed to keep building the wall himself. The governor also deployed a thousand officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, or DPS, to patrol border areas.
AARON NELSON: Starr County, Hidalgo County is inundated with DPS – black and white SUVs every hundred yards or so. It is quite striking. If you had to actually drive, you couldn’t help but notice it.
CORNISH: Aaron Nelson is a freelance journalist based in the Rio Grande Valley. He accompanied one of those state soldiers and followed this latest wave of law enforcement for Texas Monthly. I asked him how this compares to similar operations in the past.
NELSON: It looks pretty much the same. It’s a show, and I think that’s really what it should look like. Now the DPS will say they’re making big drug seizures, arresting smugglers and traffickers, but I think for the average citizen it’s just a little intimidating. And so I spoke with a few police officers who said – and they’re a lot more in touch with their communities – they said they were hearing people say, you know, we’ve seen this before. We know they’ve been here for a while. We know it is politically charged. But when are they leaving?
CORNISH: Can you clarify the role that these state soldiers play in relation to the federal border authorities?
NELSON: Well, the DPS doesn’t have the power to arrest someone on an immigration charge. In the past they have used traffic stops to search someone’s vehicle for drugs, immigrants. And they were also acting as a quasi-immigration force, where they would identify someone who might be in the undocumented country and contact the border patrol, and the border patrol would come and look for those people. From what I understand from the DPS Director, it’s not the point of this operation, that they really tackle the smuggling and trafficking, but in the last few weeks Governor Greg Abbott has said that they were going to build a border wall. The state is going to invest $ 250 million, and they are asking citizens to donate money, so they can finish Trump’s border wall, creating a Texas border wall.
CORNISH: So where did the money come from for this? I mean, you wrote that Texas, like, struggles with its power grid. So what expenses is he talking about?
NELSON: I don’t really know where he says he’s going to get this money from, and I don’t really know where he says or plans to build. So I think he will have to find private owners who are ready to allow him to build, eventually, a permanent structure. The governor claims that they have already broken new ground, although he has not revealed where it is. But what the DPS would apparently do is someone they find north of one of those gates, they would arrest that person – not on an immigration charge – they would arrest him on a charge of ‘intrusion. And the governor claims the DPS has the right to do so.
CORNISH: So even though the wall itself isn’t built, it opens the door to the app.
NELSON: That’s what the governor claims, yes. And I’ve spoken with DPS, and they’ve confirmed that, yeah, actually what we’re looking to do is build that structure. And if you walk through a structure built by the state of Texas, we can stop you on a trespassing charge. This is how they get around the fact that they do not have the power to arrest someone on an immigration charge.
CORNISH: Republican governors from several states, including Florida and South Dakota, have pledged to send law enforcement officers to Texas for border security. And then you got a visit from Trump, so there’s a lot of attention. What do you expect to happen next?
NELSON: Well, I’m very interested to see what happens next. The DPS did not say how it plans to incorporate state police from other states. But something that has been a problem even with Texas state soldiers coming from different parts of the state is that they, in some cases, experience culture shock. I mean, they don’t understand the area they control. They are professionals – I am not questioning that – but they may not speak the language, and they may not know the field. So now you take someone from Nebraska or Iowa who might not speak Spanish and they cross someone along the border, where Spanish is often the first language, and they can’t communicate with them. I think this is riddled with possible conflicts.
CORNISH: It’s reporter Aaron Nelson. His story on the border appears in Texas Monthly.
Thanks for speaking with us.
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