Gov. Kim Reynolds has joined 25 other Republican governors in the newly created American Governors Border Strike Force that was announced on Wednesday. Despite the dramatic-sounding name and some overheated rhetoric from Reynolds in a written statement about it on Thursday (“President Biden’s disastrous border policies and lack of leadership are destroying our country.”) the strike force is actually a voluntary agreement between governors to have their state law enforcement agencies share information with each other when appropriate, including when criminal activity has a connection to the U.S.-Mexico border area.
As part of the memorandum of understanding for the strike force,the governors also agreed to review their state’s “criminal statutes regarding human trafficking, drug trafficking, and transnational criminal organizations to ensure that such crimes are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Any further request for mutual assistance beyond” the information sharing “shall be made by separate request,” according to the agreement. It also specifies that the “agreement does not obligate any party state to expend funds.” But each state is responsible for whatever cost it incurs as part of the strike force.
In the news release on Thursday, the governor’s office said Iowa’s “participation in the Border Strike Force requires no taxpayer funds or enforcement personnel.” That is a change from the last time Reynolds involved Iowa in matters related to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The governor spent $300,000 in state funds to send 28 members of the Iowa State Patrol to southern Texas for 10 days in July 2021 to participate in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.
Operation Lone Star is Abbott’s ongoing law enforcement effort focused on border communities. Actual control of international borders and enforcement of immigration laws are solely the responsibility of the federal government. Abbott and other Republican politicians, including Reynolds, have used Operation Lone Star to criticize the Biden administration’s management of the border with Mexico.
Abbott has repeatedly boasted about the successes of Operation Lone Star. Reynolds did too, after the troopers returned from their 10-day deployment.
“I am so proud of what this team did and the impact in just a short timeframe that they had on the area, on the people across the board,” Reynolds said at a news conference on the deployment.
An in-depth investigation by ProPublica, the Texas Tribune and the Marshall Project published last month found that claims about the effectiveness of Operation Lone Star by Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) were “based on shifting metrics that included crimes with no connection to the border, work conducted by troopers stationed in targeted counties prior to the operation, and arrest and drug seizure efforts that do not clearly distinguish DPS’s role from that of other agencies.”
Reynolds was accused of engaging in a political stunt by sending the 29 state troopers to Texas for 10 days, and ProPublica, the Tribune and the Marshall Project found Texans involved in Operation Lone Star also suspected it was a political stunt.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Featherston, a Texas Army National Guard veteran who helped oversee the guard’s deployment under the operation until his retirement in November, said he and his colleagues believed politics was the main driver for the mushrooming initiative. He said he recalls commanders saying things like, “We’re going back to the border, the governor is trying to get reelected.”
Like Reynolds, Abbott is running for reelection this year.
In her 2018 campaign for governor, Reynolds appealed to unfounded fears about immigration. She pushed for a bill to ban so-called “sanctuary cities,” even though there were no such cities in Iowa. Reynolds even featured the bill in a fundraising letter in which she said the bill would “send a message to the far-left liberals in Des Moines and Iowa City.”
Reynolds did not mention either the sanctuary cities bill, which she signed into law, or her deployment of troopers to Texas in her statement on Thursday.
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The rhetoric associated with the American Governors Border Strike Force echoes that of Operation Lone Star, which isn’t surprising since Gov. Abbott, along with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, is responsible for the creation of the strike force. Its five-page memorandum of understanding keeps its criticism of Biden’s border policies general, with one exception. It complains “the federal government has inexplicably failed to complete the border wall, which would be a major impediment to those crossing the border illegally.” But the Washington Post, using unpublished maintenance reports from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, documented just how ineffective President Trump’s border wall has been.
“Mexican smuggling gangs have sawed through new segments of border wall 3,272 times over the past three years,” the Post reported last month. CBP spent $2.6 million to repair that damage.
The Post found that breaching the segments of the wall the Trump administration built is surprisingly easy.
Smuggling gangs typically cut the barrier with inexpensive power tools widely available at retail hardware stores, including angle grinders and demolition saws. Once the 18-to-30-foot-tall bollards are severed near the ground, their only remaining point of attachment is at the top of the structure, leaving the steel beam dangling in the air. It easily swings open with a push, creating a gap wide enough for people and narcotics to pass through.
Reynolds, who has supported construction of the wall, did not directly mention it in her statement Thursday, but she did cite the release of a 10-point border security plan signed by the same 26 governors who joined the strike force, as one of the actions “taken by GOP governors to secure our border.” Completing Trump’s border wall is one of the plan’s 10 points.
Reynolds was one of the 10 governors who traveled to Texas on Oct. 6 to participate in a news conference Gov. Abbott held when the plan was released. Speaking to reporters after the news conference, Reynolds said that trip to Texas had nothing to do with partisan politics or self-promotion.
“No, it’s not a political stunt,” she said.