AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Traffic checkpoints along the Texas border that critics say were state-operated immigration traps won't be deployed again without lawmaker support, Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday.
McCraw, however, defended the effectiveness of a three-week roadblock operation in the Rio Grande Valley in September and October, saying the $3.4 million effort heightened safety. He disputed allegations that it was a ruse to catch or intimidate immigrants who are in the country without legal documentation.
Calling the roadblocks a "tactically brilliant technique but strategically flawed," McCraw spoke in the Texas Capitol after Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced efforts to reallocate $60 million in the state budget for a new border security surge.
Exactly how that money will be spent hasn't yet been revealed, but McCraw said it won't include checkpoints. He remarked on some critics' "histrionics" and acknowledged public opposition as the reason the roadblocks ended.
"They certainly were effective and efficient," McCraw said. "But again, just because it's effective and efficient in terms of getting compliance with insurance and driver's license, if it undermines the mission to protect Texans, it's not worth doing."
The checkpoints were the first in Texas in two decades. DPS has cited roadway safety as a main reason why troopers randomly stopped motorists, mostly in Hidalgo and Cameron.
Carlos M. Garcia, an immigration attorney in McAllen, said he walked into a Head Start class near a roadblock one day and was told that 30 percent of students hadn't been taken to class by their parents.
"These were very targeted operations in certain areas of our community where low-income immigrant people live," Garcia said.
Garcia said he was a supporter of a DPS presence in the Valley. The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday took a more critical view of plans for a costly new border protection surge, calling it a political stunt.
McCraw said the checkpoints led to a 13 percent increase in driver's license applications in the area. He said checkpoints are the "most effective way" of getting compliance with insurance and driver's license requirements and the agency had considered putting up more elsewhere in Texas.
Dewhurst, who is locked in a competitive four-way Republican primary to keep his seat in 2014, described the proposed $60 million ramp-up on the border as a permanent surge that would be reauthorized annually. He didn't indicate where from the state's existing $100 billion budget the funds might be taken or suggest when a reallocation would be complete, only saying he planned to make it happen as soon as possible.
Dewhurst said the state has spent $800 million the last five years on border security. He is also instructing Senate subcommittees to explore between now and the 2015 legislative session whether federal crime data is giving an accurate picture of border violence.
Texas Republicans have long hammered the federal government over border security. But Democrats and critics have accused state leaders of embellishing the level of danger on the Texas-Mexico border, pointing toward federal crime statistics that show decreasing levels of violent crime.
Dewhurst and other Republicans say that data provides an unreliable snapshot of organized crime because it doesn't include public corruption or human and drug trafficking.
Dewhurst has been lieutenant governor since 2003 but is trying to fend off land commissioner Jerry Patterson, agriculture commissioner Todd Staples and state Sen. Dan Patrick. Staples has made border security a pet issue, releasing a book on the subject last year.