(The Center Square) – Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Robert “Beto” O’Rourke sparred over border security efforts during their first and only debate Friday night.

Border security was cited by moderators as the number one issue to residents of Edinburgh, the border town in which the debate was held. Its residents say they are tired of the crime and influx of people and drugs burdening their community.

The first question asked was: “What would you do to alleviate the financial burden on border communities?”

Abbott responded by saying he would continue the efforts of Operation Lone Star, the border initiative he launched in 2021 just a few months after President Joe Biden took office, when illegal border crossings began to surge.

O’Rourke said the operation “was a total failure” but didn’t offer any specific solutions.

The Texas legislature has allocated $4 billion to fund Operation Lone Star, which since last March has resulted in state law enforcement officials apprehending more than 308,700 foreign nationals who entered the country illegally, making more than 20,200 criminal arrests, including more than 17,900 on felony charges, and confiscating enough fentanyl to kill everyone in the United States.

“Operation Lone Star continues to fill the dangerous gaps left by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure the border,” Abbott has argued prior to Friday’s debate. “Every individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President Biden’s open border policies.”

When asked how much more the state should spend to protect Texans, Abbott said, “Zero if we had a president enforcing immigration laws.”

O’Rourke said Operation Lone Star is “political theater,” and Texas taxpayers “shouldn’t spend any more money on it.”

He said he supports a “safe, legal, orderly way to allow people to enter the country,” and that he would “work with local leaders to make sure we alleviate the burden” on them.

A video clip was played of O’Rourke saying at a recent campaign event that the Texas National Guard members were sent to the border “to be a solution in search of a problem,” implying there was no border crisis. Moderators reminded O’Rourke that he told The Houston Chronicle he would put National Guard troops on the border, leading the moderator to again ask him what his position was.

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