National News

Border security push yields bumper crop of traffic tickets

Posted 3:49 p.m. Sunday
Updated 3:51 p.m. Sunday

— A new border security approach promoted by the Texas Department of Public Safety has yielded at least one result: a bumper crop of traffic tickets.

Traffic stops in Starr and Hidalgo counties on the Texas-Mexico border accounted for nearly 8 percent of all traffic tickets issued in Texas in September, an analysis by The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/2fTBBZQ ) found. The analysis comes as the Department of Public Safety is preparing to ask the Texas Legislature for an unprecedented $1.1 billion in border security funding for the next two years.

The state began intensified border enforcement in 2014 in response to a surge of illegal immigration and cartel activity. Last year, the Legislature committed $800 million to back that enforcement campaign, including the hiring of 250 more state troopers to work the border.

The department actually had made fewer traffic stops recently in response to complaints from local officials along the border, resulting in a drop in the number of warnings issued. But the number of citations being issued along border-zone highways remains undiminished.

"For that level of scrutiny on your driving habits, what are we getting?" said state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, a Democrat from Eagle Pass and vice chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has no regrets. If a trooper sees a traffic violation, "they are going to respond to it," he said. Furthermore, drug cartel scouts "deliberately engage law enforcement on our roadways as decoys," he said.

The intensified border enforcement resulted in fewer traffic citations and warnings in parts of Texas away from the border. The number of traffic citations rose 30 percent and warnings spiked 160 percent in Starr and Hidalgo counties, while 21 percent fewer citations and 25 percent fewer warnings were issued elsewhere in the state.

"It's not fair that families in Starr County are being scrutinized at a greater level than families in pretty much any other county in the state," said Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande Valley.

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged a strict approach to border security. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says that could lessen the burden on the state's resources.

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