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How Would Greg Abbott And Wendy Davis Secure The Border?

Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis support greater border enforcement but differ on what the approach should be. (Texas Army National Guard)

This is the second in a week-long series of coordinated reports from KERA,  the Dallas Morning News, and KXAS-TV (NBC 5).  Five Days in October looks at where the leading candidates for governor stand on certain issues. 

Today, we look at border security and how Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis differ on deploying National Guard troops along the border.

This summer, Texas was in the national spotlight as thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America came across the border. Gov. Rick Perry said he was also worried the border was so porous drug cartels and human traffickers are crossing into Texas. So Perry ordered 1,000 National Guard troops and additional Department of Public Safety troopers to the border.

Greg Abbott, the Republican running for governor, wholeheartedly supported the effort.

“The federal government failed to do its job. The federal government has the fundamental responsibility to secure and protect our border,” Abbott said during a Sept. 19 televised debate in McAllen. “It failed in its fundamental responsibility. But Texas will not stand idly by.”

Democratic candidate Wendy Davis said she also supported extra law enforcement at the border. But during the debate in the Rio Grande Valley, she questioned the cost of sending the Guard – over $3 million a week. She suggested it might make more sense to increase local or department of public safety numbers instead.

“When we spend money on something that was not requested by this local community, and we put boots on the ground that don’t have detention and arrest authority,” Davis said during a debate. “We are shortchanging our ability to do what will make a smart investment in the future of this state, an investment in our children.”

Michelle Roy, a Tarrant County voter and Davis supporter, also questions having National Guard troops on the border. Roy, who tweeted during KERA’s Sept. 30 debate, says the state has far greater needs.

“That’s just a waste of money, in my opinion, that I’m paying for,” Roy said. “What we need is more help with social services. More help with some of the church outreach. The National Guard is doing nothing.”

Outside a Plano Starbucks, Kauffman County resident and Abbott supporter, Roger Jones says he wants more security at the border. Still, he questions whether National Guard troops should be part of the plan.

“It would be well-spent money, in my opinion, if it would work,” Jones said. “Because what they’ve done with all the money they’ve spent before it’s not doing any good, but I don’t know. Will it work?”

Abbott is convinced it will. In addition to the Guard, he says he would double the general revenue funds for DPS. Under that plan, he would add 500 DPS troops, 20 new Texas Rangers and more technology and tools for surveillance.

He also told a debate audience that his office is working on a potential lawsuit against the Obama administration for expenses incurred by the state and Rio Grande Valley cities, which had to pay for humanitarian relief for immigrants crossing the border.

“Secure communities promote economic development, and we want to ensure that the community here in the Rio Grande Valley as well as any community in the state of Texas is going to be safe and secure,” Abbott said.

Before sending in the Guard, Davis says Gov. Perry should have asked local communities what they think would be most effective.

While Davis stopped short of saying she would replace the Guard with more local and state law enforcement, which are authorized to make arrests, she suggested that could be the best strategy.

“We also should have asked those who’ve been serving the needs of folks who’ve been coming across the border – the humanitarian side of this issue,” Davis said. “Catholic Charities and other faith-based and non-profit organizations need our help.”

So while both Abbott and Davis agree more law enforcement is needed to make the Texas Border with Mexico more secure, they disagree on whether the National Guard should be a big part of that.

Learn more about the Five Days in October series here -- there are stories, and radio and TV pieces, too.

- Stella Chavez, KERA News