Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday escalated his push to reduce illegal immigration, announcing that a new director will coordinate with state and federal agencies to manage the Texas-Mexico border.
Abbott named Mike Banks, a longtime U.S. Border Patrol agent who recently retired, the state’s “border czar.” Banks will be based in Weslaco, about 5 miles north of the border, and will report directly to the governor.
Abbott announced Banks’ hiring while visiting San Benito, a small town near the border in the Rio Grande Valley where the state is constructing a border wall. The announcement is the latest sign of frustration from Abbott for what he says is a failure by President Joe Biden to enforce laws against illegal crossings.
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Banks “is the perfect choice to oversee Texas’ fight against the surge of illegal immigration, lethal drugs, and deadly weapons flowing into our state and nation,” Abbott said in a statement. “I have no doubt that Mike’s strong record of leadership and wealth of experience will provide Texans — and Americans — the level of border security expertise they deserve from a proper Border Czar.”
Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit challenging a new federal program that would allow up to 360,000 immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to be paroled into the U.S. every year.
“It’s the Biden administration (that is) acting lawlessly as it concerns the border,” Abbott said Monday during his announcement at the border. “That’s one of the reasons Texas needs a border czar today.”
What will the border czar do?
Banks will travel along the border, assisting on crackdown operations and coordinating with others to build the state’s wall, Abbott said.
A spokesperson with Abbott’s office did not say how much Banks will be paid and directed the American-Statesman to obtain salary information through a public records request.
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Banks said he will work to make Texas “the least desirable place” to cross the border. He said enforcement must be “more aggressive.”
“Protecting our nation’s border is something I have dedicated the last 23 years of my life to, and I am very passionate about it,” Banks said in a statement. “I look forward to strengthening our relationships with law enforcement partners and the community, leveraging all that we can to further protect our great state of Texas and the United States.”
Abbott said Banks will collaborate with the National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Who is Mike Banks?
Banks worked for the Border Patrol for 23 years before retiring in January. In that time, he was stationed in Arizona, California and Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. He also worked at the Border Patrol’s headquarters in Washington.
Abbott said Banks has a “proven record of going toe-to-toe with cartels and winning” but did not elaborate.
Banks was quoted in several publications about conditions at a crowded, foul-smelling facility for detained immigrants in McAllen in 2019 when Vice President Mike Pence visited. Banks said the nearly 400 men at the facility were allowed to brush their teeth once a day. Many of them had not showered for 10 to 20 days because the facility had not previously had a shower, according to Banks, who said it had since added a trailer shower. He said the longest anyone had stayed there was 32 days.
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What do the numbers show?
From October through December, the Border Patrol reported an average of 9,500 encounters a day. The vast majority were at the southern border.
That’s a 26% increase from the average daily encounters in the 12 previous months and a 79% increase from the 12 months before then.
The problem has overwhelmed not just small towns but large cities along the border. In El Paso, local officials established a makeshift shelter at the convention center for documented migrants who had crossed the border and were seeking asylum. But hundreds of undocumented migrants were ineligible for the shelter and braved the cold in the streets.
Biden visited El Paso in early January and was greeted on the tarmac by Abbott, who handed the president a letter asking that his administration enforce existing laws against illegal immigration.
Since last year, Abbott has had more than 16,000 migrants bused from the border and taken to four Democrat-led cities: Washington, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.