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Border problem being solved in the wrong place

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Border problem being solved in the wrong place

Sep 04, 2023 | 4:00 am ET
By George Ayoub
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Border problem being solved in the wrong place
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Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, at right, joined the governors of Oklahoma, Iowa, Texas and South Dakota for a press conference Monday at Eagle Pass, Texas, to condemn border policies of the Biden administration. (Screenshot from Gov. Greg Abbott's Facebook page)

You’ll know us by the company we keep. Which, for some Nebraskans, may strain incredulity given the crowd with whom we seem to be hanging.

To wit: Gov. Jim Pillen is now apparently palling around with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. That’s palling around as in spending a couple million bucks from the state’s saddlebags for 61 Nebraska National Guard troops to ride herd on the border in the Lone Star State during August.

Pillen spoke recently at said border while keeping the company of Abbott: Kristi Noem, South Dakota’s governor who, in an evidence-free Tweet, called the two U.S. senators from Georgia communists; Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s governor who recently signed new laws banning books about LGBTQ issues in Hawkeye State public schools; and Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma’s governor, who insists PBS’s children programs “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Odd Squad” are indoctrinating children.

Even though among that quintet Abbott is the only leader in a true border state, all five are evidently under the thrall of the latest anti-immigration dog whistle that “every state is a border state.”

I may be misunderstanding the metaphor, but if we’re really a nation of 50 border states, why doesn’t Pillen just use our National Guard to secure our “border” and save a couple million bucks?

Or at least get the data right. Standing near 1,000 feet of orange buoys equipped with razor wire Abbott has strung along the Rio Grande, Pillen said the news media was “misrepresenting” his new buddy’s latest effort to thwart immigrants from crossing the border. He praised the death floats as a “deterrent” against drug cartels smuggling their wares across the border to “kill our kids.”

Many, including this space, share Pillen’s concern for the influx of fentanyl, methamphetamine and other body, soul and family killers from the south. The problem is real and continuing.

But those wading across the river and dodging buoys aren’t the drug problem. According to National Public Radio’s analysis of data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 90% of the fentanyl seized at the border is found at official border crossings. The report also said that the vast majority of smugglers are authorized to cross the border legally and more than half of them are U.S. citizens.

Testifying before Congress in February, the chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector said his officers had confiscated about 700 pounds of fentanyl from the backpacks of those crossing illegally. That compares with 10,000 pounds seized during the same time period in the same sector at legal crossing points.

As for the subject of infanticide — obvious irony aside — my hope is that Pillen, who champions causes he sees as benefiting children in Nebraska, also understands that a child — un niño — could die a horrible death if caught in Abbott’s latticework of lethal sharps.

Yes, the quartet Pillen made nice with in Texas may make sense to many Nebraskans and are still popular in their own neighborhoods. Nor have I ever been a fan of guilt by association. When state leaders throw in with others, however, some explanation is in order, something beyond a sound bite.

For starters, I know I’m not alone when wondering if we could better use the $2.6 million elsewhere. The money came from the country’s pandemic relief fund, which can be used for government services. In this case, according to State Budget Director Lee Will, the relief funds will replace the cost of the deployment, which came out of the military department’s budget. The $2.6 million also covers the cost of an earlier, $600,000 deployment of 20 Nebraska state troopers to the Texas border, an idea former Gov. Pete Ricketts thought was keen, the principle of federalism be damned.

That’s the math and the bookkeeping: the how.

What I’m wondering is the why. Pillen insists in interviews that the money is well-spent. What would be good for Nebraskans is to see what “well-spent” looks like, numbers and evidence, that sort of thing. Something to justify our state doing the work of the federal government on a claim that somehow we live on the border.

We have a U.S. Congress willing to complain about the border and the “cost” of illegal immigration for parrying in the political universe but unwilling to do anything about it — you know, actual governing.

That’s where the problem is and that’s where it needs to be solved … regardless of the company you decide to keep.