Iowa spent roughly $300K on state troopers’ trip to southern border

Iowa State Patrol officers were sent to the U.S.-Mexico border in June. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Public Safety)

By Katie Akin, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Nearly 30 Iowa State Patrol troopers have returned from a state-funded mission to the U.S.-Mexico border that cost an estimated $300,000, state officials announced Wednesday.

A total of 28 officers — 12 road troopers, 12 tactical agents, a bilingual agent and three command leaders — volunteered to assist the Texas State Patrol with traffic stops, humanitarian aid to migrants, and investigating criminal activity on the border. The officers were stationed in the Del Rio area of Texas from July 10 to 20, according to a news release.


“I am so proud of what this team did and the impact in just a short timeframe that they had on the area (and) on the people across the board,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said during a news conference.

What exactly did Iowa officers do in Texas?

Officials with the Department of Public Safety said officers took on several different responsibilities during “Operation Lone Star.” Iowa State Patrol Capt. Mark Miller said officers were stationed with Texas troopers for traffic stops and patrols. They helped distribute water and food to migrants waiting at the border gate and assisted people crossing the Rio Grande river. 

Miller said agents also participated in several ongoing criminal investigations, but he could not share details.


Col. Nathan Fulk provided numbers on what Iowa officers did during the mission. 

  • Encountered 184 migrants at the Rio Grande river crossing and about 1400 undocumented people overall,
  • Provided food, water and aid to over 800 migrants at the border fence,
  • Road troopers assisted in traffic stops of three impaired drivers, six narcotics arrests and a stop involving child exploitation. Road troopers also helped with 12 felony arrests.
  • Tactical troopers helped locate people who were evading law enforcement and were involved in 12 significant human smuggling investigations. Tactical troopers also investigated narcotics. 

Fulk presented overall statistics from the time period that Iowa officers were in Del Rio. These numbers include actions taken by non-Iowa officers. There were:

  • 240 criminal arrests,
  • 51 motor vehicle pursuits,
  • 948 lbs marijuana seized,
  • 37 lbs cocaine and methamphetamine seized,
  • 18 firearms seized, 
  • And $1.7 million in currency seized.

How much did the trip cost?

Reynolds said earlier this month that Iowa had funded the mission to the border. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens estimated Wednesday that the operation cost about $300,000. 

  • $50,000 on lodging, food, gas and additional equipment
  • $150,000 in overtime costs
  • $100,000 in salaries (which Bayens noted would have accumulated regardless of where the troopers were stationed)

“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,” Reynolds said. “I felt that it was the right thing to do.”


What does this mean for Iowans?

Reynolds said preventing illegal narcotics from entering the country and Iowa was a top priority of the mission. Iowa agents seized 1,148% more fentanyl in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same time frame in 2020, according to a news release. Overdoses have also increased in Iowa: Fentanyl overdoses increased 20% in 2020, according to Reynolds.

“Anytime that we can stop that from coming across the borders and into our states, we’re going to do everything we can to do that,” she said.

Reynolds on Wednesday did not connect the trip to COVID-19. She told reporters on Tuesday that unvaccinated migrants at the country’s southern border were “part of the problem.”

The Iowa Democratic Party Latinx Caucus released a statement soon after Wednesday morning’s press conference. Caucus Chair Araceli Goode and Vice Chair Patricia Ritchie thanked the State Patrol for their “professionalism at the U.S./Mexico border,” but condemned the idea that immigrants furthered the spread of COVID-19 and the Republican Party’s overall attitude toward immigration.

“Governor Reynolds and 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,” they wrote.

Will Iowa officers be returning to the border?

Reynolds said state troopers were needed to assist with RAGBRAI and the Iowa State Fair. After that, the state will evaluate whether another trip to Texas is necessary.

Reynolds said she believes border security should be a responsibility of the federal government.

“It’s their responsibility, but in the absence of them taking it and protecting the border, we’re stepping up to do that,” she said.

Several other states, including neighboring South Dakota and Nebraska, also sent law enforcement officers to Texas and Arizona after the southern states in a June letter asked for assistance.

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