WESLACO — Continuing to hammer at the federal government on border security Thursday, state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples — a Republican running for lieutenant governor — unveiled grant money that will buy cameras that he says will help monitor rural areas along the Rio Grande.
Todd Staples visited the DPS regional headquarters in Weslaco to announce the $120,000 grant for Operation Drawbridge, a state-level border security program.
Staples criticized “leaders in Washington” for failing to secure the Texas-Mexico border, and promised to tackle the issue on the state level and warned of the threat posed to Texas by Mexican drug cartels.
“Since 2006, Texas taxpayers have spent almost half a billion dollars doing Washington’s job,” Staples said. “The sovereignty of America is being undermined by drug cartels.”
But with a $40 billion budget for the Department of Homeland Security, the grant seems insignificant, said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who has served as ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.
“I say to Todd Staples, ‘Thank you, but it’s a drop in the bucket,’” Cuellar said in a telephone interview.
Cuellar said criticizing the federal government is easy and commonplace for people like Staples, a Republican running for statewide office, but it doesn’t solve anything. He called for more cooperation between state and federal authorities.
Operation Drawbridge is a partnership between DPS, U.S. Border Patrol and border sheriffs that employs hundreds of motion-detecting surveillance cameras installed on private property to monitor the border.
The $120,000 grant is for DPS to expand the program by purchasing more motion-sensing cameras, although officials would not say how many cameras they could buy with the money or where they will be deployed.
DPS spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said “hundreds” of cameras are in operation, but did not return a request Thursday for overall budget figures for Operation Drawbridge.
The program is not listed specifically in the Legislature’s appropriations, but the state released more than $18 million per year to fund DPS border security expenditures in 2014 and 2015.
“This funding is an investment in the security of Texas,” said Public Safety Commission Chairwoman A. Cynthia “Cindy” Leon of Mission. “These thugs and criminals can no longer operate under the cloak of darkness because we now have an extra pair of eyes along the border that operate around the clock.”
Since January 2012, the program assisted in the apprehension of more than 16,000 people suspected of crossing into the country illegally and 70,000 pounds of narcotics, according to a news release from Staples’ office prior to Thursday’s event.
The recent grant is the second one the Texas Department of Agriculture has awarded to fund Operation Drawbridge. Last year, the agency granted $225,000 to DPS.
Though he wasn’t present at the news conference, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said he supports the program.
“We support the technology aspect of it,” he said in a text message. “It’s a good idea. It’s a force multiplier.”