LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Officials from the Nebraska State Patrol defended their state-funded mission to the U.S.-Mexican border on Thursday, arguing that they were answering a call for help from fellow law enforcement officers in Texas amid a surge in illegal border crossings.
Patrol officials described the situation in Del Rio, Texas, as a humanitarian crisis and said many locals welcomed them, despite criticism that the agency agreed not to seek repayment for the services it provided at Nebraska taxpayers' expense. The last of the 25 troopers who were deployed are expected to return Friday.
“When our law enforcement partners ask for help, other agencies respond,” Col. John Bolduc, the patrol's superintendent, said at a news conference with his boss, Gov. Pete Ricketts. "That’s what our team did here. Hopefully Nebraska is never in a situation where we need to make a similar request, but if we are, we know there will be others willing and able to step up and help out.”
Bolduc estimated the mission cost the state approximately $500,000 for trooper salaries, travel expenses and items such as greenish-tan uniforms that are standard in Texas. He said about $300,000 of those expenses are costs that the patrol would have incurred even without going on the mission, and the rest will come out of the patrol's current budget if Nebraska never gets reimbursed.
Ricketts said Nebraska and other states are in talks with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican, about repayment. Ricketts said the Texas Legislature might still approve payments in a special session, but he sought to blame Democrats for the delay, arguing that Texas lawmakers can't approve funding right now because of Democratic Texas lawmakers who have left the state to block a restrictive voting bill.
It's unclear whether Nebraska will actually be reimbursed, based on other deployments in other states. The state has been repaid for previous missions to North Dakota during anti-pipeline protests in 2016, but hasn't been reimbursed a deployment to Washington, D.C., during President Joe Biden's inauguration.
“Going into this, we knew there was no guarantee we'd get reimbursed, but there's an opportunity to be reimbursed, so we'll see what happens,” Ricketts said, casting the mission as an urgent national public safety matter.
Nebraska’s disclosure that it didn’t ask for reimbursement came a few days after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, also a Republican, acknowledged that her state will cover the cost of sending law enforcement troopers to fight crime along the border. In South Dakota, a private donor has agreed to pay the bill.
As with Nebraska, Iowa officials have argued that Texas could later reimburse the state for its expenses. But the agreement with Nebraska shows that Texas asked other states to “absorb the associated costs with this mission” for the good of the country.
Bolduc said Nebraska troopers rode along with Texas law enforcement officers, helping to enforce state laws not related to immigration.
Nebraska's troopers made more than 500 traffic stops and conducted 25 commercial vehicle inspections, which led to several arrests on drug and weapons charges, Bolduc said. He said 15 people were arrested for human smuggling, and troopers helped locate at least six known gang members.
Nebraska’s initial deployment lasted 16 days, but Ricketts extended the deployment by two weeks for 14 of the troopers.
Bolduc said the patrol had to shuffle some of its personnel in Nebraska to adjust for the temporary loss of troopers, but the state experienced lower-than-average call volumes during the deployment. He said some of the troopers who went to Texas don't normally work on the streets in Nebraska, but “clearly, somebody had to pick up the slack” to accommodate the reduced manpower at home.
Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Jason Scott, who led the mission to the border, said the deployment was a good learning experience.
“In the 23 years I’ve been in law enforcement, I’ve not seen a humanitarian situation of the nature” that troopers encountered in Texas, said Scott, the commander of the agency’s special operations division.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 180,000 encounters on the Mexican border in May, the most since March 2000.
Nebraska’s move to send troopers to the border comes as Ricketts positions himself as a vocal, conservative critic of Biden. Ricketts has railed against various administration proposals in nationally broadcast interviews, including a goal to conserve nearly one-third of America’s lands and waters by 2030 that Ricketts paints as a federal land grab.
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