LINCOLN — This year’s two border deployments ordered by Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen cost a combined $1.27 million.

The state says it paid $1.2 million of that total using interest collected from holding the second wave of $48 million in federal pandemic relief funds that Congress set aside for rental assistance.

State taxpayers paid the remaining $71,675.23 in general funds, the Nebraska State Patrol confirmed. The Patrol and the Nebraska Military Department both sent people south.

The Examiner requested the costs of Pillen’s 2024 deployments a year after he spent nearly $1 million in pandemic-related funds and general funds on two similar deployments in 2023.

Not all are pleased with spending

Some legislators, including State Sens. Carol Blood of Bellevue and Megan Hunt of Omaha, have said those funds could have been better used on other in-state priorities.

Hunt said this spending won’t help constituents. She said it doesn’t address problems Nebraskans tell senators and the governor they want fixed, such as workforce and housing needs.

“This spending is political and partisan,” she said. “It’s misusing political power for political gain. I think Governor Pillen is hoping that Nebraskans don’t notice.”

Some support Pillen’s deployments

Pillen deployed 34 members of the Nebraska National Guard between April 1 until June 27 to help near the Texas-Mexico border in the Del Rio area — 28 from the Army Guard and six from the Air Guard.

Pillen similarly sent 10 State Patrol troopers to the El Paso area of the Texas-Mexico border from April 14-28, where they were paired with Texas Department of Public Safety troopers.

Pillen has argued that public safety and national security dictate the need for every state to send help until the federal government does more to stem the flow of migrants to the border.

Like many other GOP governors seeking to draw attention to the issue in a presidential election year, he defends the spending on border security as necessary and worthwhile.

Questions about effectiveness

He calls “every state a border state” and speaks about the failures of the federal government. Local and national critics have described the spending as ineffective and wasteful.

Pillen dismissed such questions about the cost-effectiveness of state efforts during his three trips to the border as governor, including stops to visit the Nebraskans he sent.

He and leaders with the State Patrol have said their efforts help reduce the number of people and illegal substances being trafficked across the border.

Pillen’s predecessor, U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, also sent state employees to the Texas border as part of efforts to help his friend and fellow Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Texas has spent billions in state money on border security, arguing that border security has been a problem under both Republican and Democrat administrations.

Congress spends nearly $20 billion on border security.

Approach draws supporters, critics

Red-state governors have found political support at home for the spending. Pillen took Speaker of the Legislature John Arch and State Sen. Tom Brewer to the border last month.

Every member of Nebraska’s all-GOP congressional delegation has said polling shows border security is a top issue for voters. It is discussed often on conservative Fox News and Newsmax.

Immigrant advocates and Latino Nebraskans argue that some of the rhetoric Pillen, Ricketts and others have used to describe migrants contributes to fear and anger against them.

One Omaha-based group, LULAC of Nebraska, has argued that the governor would rather spend money on political stunts rather than work to help people who contribute to Nebraska’s business dynamism.

Immigrant and refugee labor account for more than 8% of the state’s economic output, one study indicated. More than 60,000 undocumented workers call Nebraska home, estimates show.

Pillen has said he will keep sending Texas help until the feds get more serious about stopping the flow of people and products across the border. No next deployment has been announced.

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