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Border Security 'Surge' Could Create Ghost Towns Along Rio Grande

McALLEN (KRLD) -- The area from the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo has become 'ground zero' for the flood illegal immigration into Texas.

In an effort to combat the recent flood of immigrants, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus authorized the Texas Department of Public Safety to fund a surge at the border with additional personnel at $1.3 milion per week.

DPS did a similar surge last year called "Operation Strong Safety", which former State Rep. Aaron Pena (R-McAllen) says created a public out-cry among many residents in his area.

"There was a large out-cry from the community because, quite frankly, right here on the border we live with a number of people who are - to be blunt - not citizens. And this has been the way of life down here for hundreds of years," says Pena. " Last time they initiated a surge, they flooded the area with more personnel. They had setup check points in various places in the Valley that were somewhat controversial because we have a number of families where the kids are American, but the parents are not Americans and so a lot of people avoided the roads."

He says that resulted in creating what many perceived as a "police state" and created ghost towns along the Rio Grande Valley.

"A good percentage of schools were empty because parents were not taking their kids to school, people were missing work."

But despite how controversial the previous surge was, Lt. Governor Dewhurst says it was effective.

"Last year DPS conducted Operation Strong Safety and achieved astounding results. Crime rates related to drugs, cartels, transnational gangs, and illegal border activity plummeted because of the resources we allocated to stop illegal entry at the border. It's time to make this type of presence on the border permanent."

And State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) agrees.

"Securing the border is absolutely critical, and never before have we ever had so many people boldly coming across," says Riddle. "They cross the border, sit down and just wait for border patrol to pick them up."

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol says it has apprehended more illegal immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley in the first eight months of the current federal fiscal year (over 160,000) than it did for all of fiscal year 2013 (154,453).

In May 2014 alone, USCBP reported apprehending more than 1,100 illegal immigrants per day in the Rio Grande Valley. This year, like last year, more than half of the individuals apprehended at the Texas-Mexico border by USCBP are from countries other than Mexico. Additionally, 34,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been apprehended in Texas so far this year, with estimates that number will reach 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

Ultimately Pena hopes that DPS can secure the border without inciting panic.

"Word of mouth spread fairly fast," he says. "I think this time they will be respective of the community and not bring it to a stand still."

You can follow Joe Gomez on Twitter at @JoeGomezKRLD.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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