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Critics call for transparency in Nebraska state troopers' border deployment

Critics call for transparency in Nebraska state troopers' border deployment

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The Biden administration, under pressure to be more transparent, opened its main holding center for migrant children in Donna, Texas, to journalists for the first time this week.

About 25 Nebraska state troopers will deploy this week and start work in Texas on June 28, according to the State Patrol, in response to a request for assistance at the U.S.-Mexico border. Critics who consider the deployment political want more transparency about costs and what the troopers will be doing.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Saturday that the state would send troopers to Texas “in response to a request for support in managing the ongoing crisis in communities” along the border.

In a press release, the governor referenced “the disastrous policies of the Biden-Harris Administration” as creating “an immigration crisis on the border.” Ricketts on Tuesday told The World-Herald that “Biden has taken many actions that have weakened enforcement of immigration policies, leading to a significant reduction in enforcement actions.” He noted that arrests decreased by more than 60% in February compared with the last three full months of the Trump administration.

“President Trump was addressing an ongoing crisis on the border, and dramatically reduced illegal border crossings, while President Biden reignited the crisis,” Ricketts said.

Unauthorized southern border crossings in fact have surged, ABC News has reported. The count of 180,000 last month represents a two-decade high and 76% increase since February, according to that report. Monthly totals for encounters with migrants were lower during the Trump administration, ABC said, topping out at 150,000 but still overwhelming authorities.

In 2018, Ricketts voiced support for then-President Trump’s immigration policies, including sending more military personnel to the border, and said he was willing to send more National Guard soldiers to help secure the border if the president asked for them. At the time, there were Nebraska Guard soldiers at the border in Texas and Arizona assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection with logistical, maintenance and administrative support.

Nebraska National Guard soldiers have been deployed periodically to the Southwest border in relatively small numbers in support of the federal agency since 2006, according to spokesman Maj. Scott Ingalsbe, but none are deployed there now.

The current request for law enforcement support came through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a mutual aid agreement among states, according to the Governor’s Office, in the wake of a disaster declaration from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. He and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sent a letter June 10 requesting governors send all available law enforcement to the southern border “in defense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, is among critics questioning the motive and value of Nebraska’s deployment.

“This is a political point that Gov. Ricketts is making, and we have security and law enforcement that are trained for the border,” Kleeb said, referring to federal resources. She said Ricketts in recent months has been speaking out consistently against the Biden administration, echoing Republican talking points on topics such as critical race theory and attacking Biden’s 30-by-30 conservation plan. She sees this move as “one more piece of steak he’s throwing to his radical base.”

She argues Ricketts has a responsibility to tell taxpayers how much money will be spent sending troopers to Texas for an “issue that has been ongoing, including under President Trump.”

As of Monday, funding for the deployment hadn’t been finalized, State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas wrote in an email. However, he wrote that the agency has been reimbursed for previous responses requested through the partnership.

Nebraska troopers deployed twice in response to such requests during pipeline protests in North Dakota, Thomas wrote. Those deployments included 11 troopers and lasted about two weeks each, with teams helping local law enforcement provide security, he wrote.

More recently, about two dozen Nebraska State Patrol personnel deployed in response to a request ahead of the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, according to Thomas. In that case, they went for about a week and again helped with security, this time at state facilities including the Minnesota State Capitol.

Nebraska has also called upon the compact to receive assistance. The most recent instance, according to Thomas, was in response to wildfires in western Nebraska in 2012.

Agencies submit expenses through Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, Thomas said, which is then reimbursed by the state that made the original request. The State Patrol was reimbursed roughly $292,000 for the North Dakota deployment, Thomas said, and reimbursement for the Minnesota deployment is still in progress.

This time, “the troopers will work side-by-side with Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, allowing Texas DPS to provide better law enforcement coverage of the Del Rio area,” Thomas wrote. The team will be made up of volunteers from across the state, according to Thomas, some of whom are bilingual. The deployment is slated to last up to 16 days, and Thomas previously told the World-Herald that the agency has adequate staffing for the deployment with no overtime expected to cover shifts of the troopers who go to Texas.

A key concern for Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel to ACLU of Nebraska, is the work state troopers will be expected to perform in Texas and whether that includes enforcing federal immigration law.

A Texas DPS spokesperson declined to provide details about the need for help in Del Rio and functions troopers from Nebraska will perform, including whether they will be enforcing federal immigration law and whether that would require special training.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is committed to securing our border under the direction of Governor Greg Abbott,” press secretary Ericka Miller wrote in an email. “We are grateful to every agency that has offered assistance in making Texas and the United States more secure, and will be integrating other law enforcement agencies into our operations at the border as appropriate. While the department does not discuss operational specifics, we will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds in order to make real-time decisions to protect the people and property of Texas.”

She wrote that DPS was unable to accommodate a ride-along with Nebraska troopers and DPS that a World-Herald reporter requested and did not answer a follow-up email asking why.

What has been happening at the border, Godinez said, is a result of lawmakers and administrations failing to meet the needs of both Americans and immigrants and to implement asylum law as it reads.

She’s not in Texas and can’t speak to their specific concerns, she said, but as a Nebraskan she questions if sending troopers south is in this state’s best interest. Any time you pull officers away from the field and from building relationships with the community, you’re taking them away from time to build relationships, “particularly with the Black and brown community here in Nebraska,” she said.

“This effort that Gov. Ricketts decided to embark on is really one to politicize an issue rather than addressing an issue at heart,” Godinez said.

“Bottom line is the best use of their time and their duty is to serve Nebraskans,” she added.

State Republican Party Chair Dan Welch expressed support for Ricketts’ response in an emailed statement and thanked state troopers who will be spending time away from their families.


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