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Gov. Greg Abbott touts border security efforts amid criticism over Texas National Guard deployment

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

In Denton County, Abbott says Texas is doing the job of the federal government by building border wall and pushing other efforts in the region.

Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during the Denton County Mayors Crime Prevention Luncheon on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, at CoServ in Corinth, TX. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

CORINTH — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed Tuesday to secure the state’s border with Mexico amid criticism by his political rivals that his plan to curb illegal crossings is flawed and inadequate.

Abbott’s speech to Denton County elected and law enforcement officials was in his capacity as governor, but it crystalized several talking points for his reelection campaign. Along with border security, Abbott stressed the importance of adequately funding law enforcement agencies.

Issues related to border security and police funding appeal to the Republican voters he’ll need to win in the March 1 primary, where he faces a challenge from a field of GOP conservatives, including former state Sen. Donald Huffines of Dallas and former Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West of Garland.

Not more than a rock toss from the Corinth event at CoServ Electric was a Huffines campaign billboard that read “secure the border.”

Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during the Denton County Mayors Crime Prevention Luncheon on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, at CoServ in Corinth, TX. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Abbott says his focus has long been directed at border security. And on Tuesday he told the Denton County audience that he’s deployed 10,000 members of the Texas National Guard to help secure the border, including arresting criminals, stopping the flow of illegal drugs, and curbing human trafficking. He touted his border wall project and legislative funding for security in the region.

“We’re setting all-time records on the number of people who are coming across the border. It was approaching, across the entire border region, close to 2 million people who came across the border this past year,” Abbott said. “One reason why we’re able to do these strategies is because the state Legislature appropriated $3 billion for the state to be able to address the border crisis. That’s Texas taxpayer money doing the federal government’s job.”

But Abbott’s efforts to secure the border have been met with criticism from his rivals, including Huffines, West and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, a Democratic Party candidate for governor.

Critics say the mission, known as Operation Lone Star, resulted in the hasty deployment of Texas National Guard troops without assuring they had the proper equipment, regular pay or a clear purpose.

The GOP-controlled Legislature has already poured about $412 million into the border mission. Yet the Texas Military Department has suggested it could cost far more: as much as $2 billion this fiscal year, according to an October estimate obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Last week, West demanded the resignation of the guard’s top brass. O’Rourke called on Abbott to send soldiers home if he can’t justify their deployment. The criticism followed the concern over a string of recent suicides by soldiers that was first reported by the Army Times.

In Corinth, Abbott did not take questions from the media.

But at a news conference in San Antonio, he told reporters that in 2021 the Pentagon reported hundreds of suicides and that the issue is not unique to the Texas National Guard.

Abbott also blasted his critics for “just playing politics” with suicide.

“It is offensive for any of these people raising the issues to politicize the issue of a military member losing their life,” Abbott said. “If they are saying something about what’s happening in the National Guard in Texas, why are they not at the very same time saying something about President (Joe) Biden and … hundreds of members of the United States military losing their lives to suicide?

Abbott predicted that not all of the four National Guard suicides occurred during the Operation Lone Star deployment.

During his Corinth speech, the governor blasted the movement in some cities — nationally and in Texas — to cut police department budgets. He singled out Austin, saying the city had reduced police funding by $100 million. But he said leaders of some cities across the country were having buyer’s remorse about efforts to “defund” the police.

Judge Andy Eads
Denton County Judge Andy Eads gives Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a gift during the Denton County Mayors Crime Prevention Luncheon on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, at CoServ in Corinth, TX. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Last year, the Legislature approved legislation that would make it more difficult for local authorities to cut law enforcement budgets.

“When you try to diminish the role of law enforcement, it gives, in a way, support to those who are the criminal elements who want to defy laws, who want to commit crimes, knowing that law enforcement may not be there to control crime,” Abbott said.

“That is exactly why this past session we promised our law enforcement officers they will do more than just show our gratitude. We would support them by ensuring that we will not allow cities like Austin to defund the police. Instead, Texas would defund any city that defunds our law enforcement officers,” he added.

Denton County Democrat Ira Bershad said Abbott should be talking about protecting voting rights and expanding Medicaid to improve access to affordable health care, rather than just rehashing his typical political rhetoric.

“Governor Abbott is going around the state continuing to spout the failed talking points of his idol, Donald Trump,” Bershad wrote in a text message. “It’s the same tired tactic meant to divide people. What he’s NOT talking about is how he’s failed to secure and fortify the state’s power grid.”

Abbott is scheduled to return to North Texas on Saturday for a campaign event in Fort Worth.

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