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Reynolds, Public Safety Officials Give Details On Iowa Trooper Deployment To Southern Border

Katarina Sostaric
Iowa State Patrol Captain Mark Miller describes his experience leading state troopers at the U.S.-Mexico border at a news conference Wednesday.

Iowa public safety officials say the 27 state troopers and one agent deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border this month worked as a “force multiplier” for Texas law enforcement, and the additional cost to Iowa taxpayers for the mission is approximately $200,000.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and public safety officials provided the update at a news conference Wednesday after providing very little information about the mission for the past few weeks.

Reynolds said she responded to the call for assistance from the governors of Texas and Arizona “because the federal government has abdicated its duty.” All three governors are Republicans.

“Texas law enforcement and border agents are being overwhelmed, and the crisis at the border isn’t staying at the border,” Reynolds said. “It’s being felt across the country, including right here in Iowa.”

Asked for an example, Reynolds claimed drug trafficking at the border is affecting Iowa by causing the state’s recent significant increase in drug overdose deaths. But she later said she thinks the increase in overdose deaths “has to do a lot with COVID.”

Iowa Department of Public Safety
Iowa State Troopers provide supplies to migrants at a border gate in Texas in July 2021.

Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said he believes the increased overdose deaths in the state in 2020 “may be more related” to the pandemic and increased depression and isolation.

“In terms of our seizures, our seizures of fentanyl and heroin have spiked in 2021,” Bayens said, adding that they’ve increased by more than 1,000 percent in Iowa compared to the first few months of 2020.

Fentanyl seizures have also spiked in some southern border communities.

Bayens said the troopers who went to the border all volunteered for the mission and worked 12 to 16 hour shifts for 12 days in Texas. He said they partnered with Texas troopers to reduce the number of high-speed car chases, provided humanitarian assistance to migrants at river crossings and border gates, disrupted criminal networks trying to evade law enforcement, and investigated human smuggling.

“They worked hard when hard work was required,” Bayens said. “They showed compassion when compassion was needed. I’m proud of them. And I know the people of Texas appreciate it.”

According to PolitiFact, local law enforcement along some parts of the Texas-Mexico border are seeing a big increase in property crimes—people breaking ranch fences, and stealing cars and supplies like food and water. There’s also been an increase in high-speed car chases that can result in injuries.

Border communities have not reported an increase in violent crime. Law enforcement officials have reported more migrant deaths recently as some die of extreme heat or drown while trying to cross the Rio Grande.

Iowa Department of Public Safety
Iowa state troopers help a family get out of the Rio Grande during their deployment in Texas this month.

Iowa State Patrol Captain Mark Miller led the state troopers in Texas, said residents of the Del Rio are and Texas troopers told them they felt safer with the Iowa troopers there. And he said troopers provided support at a river crossing and a border gate.

“When we first got there, we didn’t know what to expect,” Miller said. “What we found is when they came across the river, when they saw us, they were smiling. When they saw us…they reached their hands to us to pull them out of the river. They felt safe finally. They knew that they were going to wait there and the Border Patrol was going to come and process them, and they would be on with the rest of their journey, and whatever they had to do with it.”

Miller said an Iowa trooper also realized a woman at a border gate was going into labor, and they got an ambulance for her. He said they also found a woman who was extremely dehydrated and called medics to help her.

The Iowa Democratic Party’s Latinx Caucus Chair Araceli Goode and Vice Chair Patricia Ritchie said in a statement they are grateful for the troopers’ professionalism and are happy to see them home and safe.

“However, Gov. Reynolds and the Iowa Republicans continue to use fear to divide us from each other when they know, just like we do, that people who were born here are far more likely to commit crimes than people who are immigrants,” Goode and Ritchie said. “This rhetoric is hurtful, dangerous and normalizes hateful actions against Iowa’s Latinx community.”

Bayens said the cost is a total of nearly $300,000, with $100,000 of that being the regular salary costs the troopers would be paid even if they had stayed in Iowa. He said about $150,000 was for overtime pay during the mission and $50,000 went toward transportation, lodging and supplies.

Reynolds said Iowa taxpayers will most likely end up paying for the mission.

“It is an investment that I believe was well spent in helping really secure the southern border, the humanitarian efforts that were put in place—I felt that it was the right thing to do,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds and public safety officials were asked about the impact to public safety in Iowa when troopers leave the state.

Iowa State Patrol Colonel Nathan Fulk said groups of troopers are often deployed to in-state events like RAGBRAI and the Iowa State Fair.

“So we strategically look with our leadership element…to say okay, where can we strategically spare a trooper that we will minimize the impact and negate the impact to the state of Iowa?” Fulk said.

Reynolds said after the state fair next month, she will consider another possible deployment to the southern border.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter