COLUMN: Governor takes action to stem illegal border crossings

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AUSTIN — Quoting U.S. Border Patrol data regarding illegal border crossings, Gov. Greg Abbott on Dec. 15 said the number of apprehensions through October and November "are on average two to three times higher than last year.”

Abbott added that in the Big Bend sector, unaccompanied minor arrivals for that period has increased almost tenfold. In the Rio Grande sector, it doubled from 3,219 to 6,465.

“Texas will not sit idle in the face of this challenge,” Abbott said. “We will not be victimized as a state by a federal government’s apathetic response to border security.”

To respond to the problem, Abbott said he plans to:

• Extend the deployment of National Guard troops at strategic locations on the border;

• Instruct the Texas Department of Public Safety to coordinate with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to increase the number of boats and tactical officers at strategic locations on the Rio Grande River;

• Instruct the DPS to increase aerial observation missions to aid interdiction efforts;

• Award grants to support the Border Prosecution Unit; • Provide grants to Ellis and Rockwall counties to aid their efforts to respond to the unexpected relocation of unaccompanied minors to their counties.

• Urge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security once again to increase border patrol agents in Texas.

New education chief is named

Gov. Abbott on Dec. 14 appointed Mike Morath to be state commissioner of education, overseeing all public school districts and charter schools.

Morath, who succeeds Michael Williams, was elected in 2011 to the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees and has served on the board of directors of the Texas Association of School Boards since July 2014.

Williams, education commissioner since August 2012, congratulated Morath on his appointment. “I hope he finds this job as exciting and rewarding as I have,” said Williams, who announced earlier this fall that he was resigning, effective Jan. 1.

Morath serves as chairman of Morath Investments, managing a small portfolio of investments. Most recently, the Governor’s Office said, Morath served as president and chief operating officer of Minute Menu Systems, a company that provided information systems to help manage a $2.5 billion federal child nutrition program.

New canine teams join DPS

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Dec. 11 announced the graduation of three troopers and three canines from an eight-week training program.

According to the DPS, these “canine teams” will join 41 other teams stationed throughout Texas, including six explosive-detection teams stationed in Austin. The newly trained dogs will be used for drug detection.

In 2014, the DPS reported, its canine teams assisted in the seizure of approximately 15,600 pounds of marijuana, 293 pounds of cocaine, 52 pounds of heroin, 441 pounds of methamphetamine, 21 pounds of hashish, 72 pounds of other drugs and $5.4 million in cash.

Texas adds jobs in November

The Texas Workforce Commission on Dec.18 announced employers expanded their payrolls in November. The workforce grew with the addition 16,300 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs, marking the ninth month of job increases for Texas in 2015.

While Texas employers added 179,300 jobs over the past year, Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 4.6 percent in November, up from 4.4 percent in October, and remained below the national average of 5.0 percent.

The construction industry category accounted for more than half of November’s net job gains with the addition of 9,000 jobs, marking that industry’s fourth straight month of growth. The professional and business service category also added jobs for the fourth month in a row, adding 5,500 positions in November.

Governor’s office awards grants

The Office of the Governor on Dec. 11 announced the awarding of nearly $15 million from the Texas Military Preparedness Commission’s Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant.

The program, the governor’s office said, “assists defense communities which may be negatively impacted by a future federal Base Realignment and Closure round. The grant money will be invested in infrastructure projects and other initiatives to increase the military value of installations in Texas, thereby mitigating the potential negative effects of a BRAC round on our state’s installations.”

Grants were awarded to the Alamo Area Council of Governments, $5 million; the City of Houston, $3.10 million; Val Verde County, $4.28 million; and the City of Wichita Falls, $1.75 million.

“With these investments, Texas is ensuring that our bases will continue to serve a vital role in their communities and support the men and women in uniform who defend our freedoms every day,” Abbott said.