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THE MONITOR: Border security funding secured

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Washington, July 1, 2016 | comments

EDITORIAL: Border security funding secured

The allocation of $20.1 million from the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal 2016 grants for Texas local law enforcement agencies to continue to work with federal authorities on border security issues, such as human trafficking, shows the significance of this coordinated program and the trust that the federal government has in our local police.

The fact that nine South Texas counties will receive more than half of the funds for this Operation Stonegarden program — $11.3 million, and most are getting an increase from previous years — is proof that this has been helpful in our region and to combat crime overall on our nation’s southern border.

Hidalgo County will receive $3.5 million in the funds, which are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Association. Other county fund distributions include Webb: $3.3 million; Starr: $1.5 million; Cameron: $1 million, and Willacy County: $140,000.

These are significant federal dollars that are coming to Texas, whose leaders have complained that it receives little to no federal help on issues related to immigration. This particular program covers border enforcement, which includes tracking human traffickers, stopping drugs, as well as assisting ranchers and those with property damage caused by illegal immigrants.

“Any time we are able to get Homeland Security to direct funds our way it’s a good thing. The thing about it is there is one pot of money and it gets spread out all around the country. They’ve got a lot of different places to take care of,” U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville told us.

Hidalgo County received a $200,000 bump from fiscal 2015. Since Operation Stonegarden began in 2009, the county has received $20 million. That’s second only to Webb County, which has received $24 million total, and which is represented by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who sits on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

Nationwide, the total amount allocated was $55 million, which includes money to northern states to control an increasing flow of illegal drugs from Canada.

“Texas gets $20 million out of $55 million, over 40 percent, so we get the bulk of the money,” Cuellar told us.

Cuellar has led the charge for increasing these funds and told us that this past year he also added language into the appropriations measure that will require metrics and data from local law enforcement organizations “to track performance measures.”

That’s a smart move and we hope the data will help bolster the case for even more funds for South Texas in upcoming years, especially in Starr County, which has seen a significant uptick in border crimes, especially human trafficking, this past year.

This also hopefully will deter any improper use of these funds by local law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately there have been some South Texas law enforcement agencies that have not shown scruples in using these funds as the federal government has intended. This includes a former police chief of Rio Grande City, in Starr County, who admitted to stealing $44,000 in overtime pay and benefits from 2009-2014 through this program.

With Rio Grande City being a hot spot right now for human trafficking and drug smuggling, it’s a shame that Starr County is not receiving more Operation Stonegarden funding. The county is getting $1.5 million, down from $2 million in 2014.

But it is certainly understandable given past misuses of these precious funds there.

May these grant amounts be a warning to any agency that might be foolhardy into thinking it does not have to use these funds as intended. Border security is a serious issue and we look to local law enforcement — which know the local terrain and have the local contacts to better help federal authorities. Because they don’t our region, as a whole, suffers.

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