Final tally for first Pillen border deployments totals nearly $1 million

Nebraska governor defends spending as necessary, while critics call it ineffective

By: - October 24, 2023 5:45 am

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen greets Nebraska National Guard members he deployed to the border this summer. (Courtesy of the Nebraska Governor’s Office)

LINCOLN — The final tab for Gov. Jim Pillen sending 61 Nebraska National Guard members to help Texas patrol the Southern border with Mexico in August was $826,000.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen addresses members of the Nebraska National Guard that he deployed to the Texas border with Mexico in August. (Courtesy of the Nebraska Governor’s Office)

With Pillen’s approval, the Nebraska State Patrol had already spent another $128,000 in late May and early June to send 10 state troopers to the border. Most were drone pilots.

The Governor’s Office confirmed the nearly $1 million cost of Pillen’s border-related deployments in response to a public records request from the Nebraska Examiner.

The Guard had projected its August deployment would cost up to $2 million. 

No reimbursement

Pillen’s deployments followed earlier moves by his predecessor, former Gov. Pete Ricketts. Ricketts spent $2.5 million deploying the Guard and Patrol to Texas in 2020 and 2021.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen listens with the governors of Texas, Iowa and South Dakota to a briefing on the situation at the nation’s Southern border. (Courtesy of the Nebraska Governor’s Office)

Nebraska was reimbursed by Texas and the federal government for the 2020 deployment, but not for 2021. Texas has shifted to accepting border help only from states that agree not to seek reimbursement. 

The State Patrol covered the costs of its 2023 border deployment from its $67.5 million general fund budget. Its leaders have said the agency used the deployment for drone pilot training.

Nebraska’s Military Department covered the 2023 Guard deployment using its $12.2 million general fund budget. Pillen intends to use part of more than $1 billion in federal pandemic recovery funds to refill the Guard’s coffers. 

Wrong or right use for recovery funds?

Nebraska State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue argued in August that pandemic relief funds could be used more effectively, such as for public health.

Carol Blood speaks to the Nebraska Examiner during her watch party for her gubernatorial campaign. (Jazari Kual/Nebraska Examiner)

Regardless of which pot of money gets used, those are tax dollars that could have been used for another purpose, Blood said. 

Pillen has called the spending necessary. “Every state is a border state,” he said Monday. He and other GOP governors criticize the Biden administration’s immigration enforcement policies. 

Illegal border crossings have ebbed and flowed under presidents of both parties. Biden saw higher numbers as he and federal courts considered ending pandemic-related restrictions.

The Governor’s Office shared federal stats showing a record 2.48 million migrant encounters in fiscal year 2023, which included more than 100 people on the FBI’s terror watchlist.

“Securing our Southern border is a matter of national security,” Pillen said. “When the federal government ignores that threat, it is our job to step up as states and defend our nation.”

Others say Texas or feds should pay

Supporters of Pillen’s approach, including a handful of state senators who disagree with spending state money on a federal purpose, have called Nebraska’s efforts symbolic and needed.

A Texas National Guardsman observes as Border Patrol agents pat down migrants who have surrendered themselves for processing at Gate 42, some after waiting near the wall for days, May 10, 2023. (Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

Some supporters say Texas could have afforded to reimburse Nebraska, Iowa and other red states that have sent help. Texas recently added over $1 billion in new state funding for border security. 

Local Latinos have criticized the governor, saying he is sending a political message that risks fomenting hostility against people who have lived in Nebraska for generations as well as newcomers.

They describe Nebraska’s deployments as meaningless compared to at least $17.5 billion in federal spending on border security. They also want more focus on the human costs.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.

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