NCBA Op-Ed: Saving our border beef

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The Presidential debates highlighted varying national opinions on how best to secure the troubled southern border. Our Governor Rick Perry pointed out that fencing the entire 2,000 mile border with Mexico was not the way to go and that more boots-on-the-ground was the correct approach. Governor Perry may be out of the presidential race, but he was dead right on this issue. The difference in opinion is largely from the fact he knows the border.

The new border fence already completed in the Arizona desert, El Paso, Del Rio, and elsewhere is a tremendous tool in securing our border and I thoroughly support constructing additional fencing in similar areas where we know it will be effective. But to be effective, it must protect our sovereignty without undermining our economy. No one knows that better than ranchers on the Rio Grande.

The fence works exceptionally well in two scenarios, when properly supported. It is the most practical means to curb illegal crossings in urban areas and in isolated remote desert areas. In both instances, it must still be supported by adequate personnel within immediate response distance to be effective. But to build it along many miles of the Rio Grande is not necessary and would damage much of the valley’s economy. Ranches adjoining the river would be severely impacted if livestock access to water in this arid region were restricted.

The major attraction to Big Bend National Park – canoe and kayak trips down the Rio Grande – would be a thing of the past. Waterfront homes, docks, fishing, and water sports on Lake Amistad and Falcon Lake would be rendered next to impossible.

There are other ways to better protect those areas. It comes down to boots-on-the-ground, patrol boats on the water, aerial assets, and better intelligence. None of these measures will significantly impede our ranchers, homeowners, or marinas and still provide the added measure of protection we need.

As we examine what can be done, we must reluctantly acknowledge a change in what’s happening at our southern border. It has become far more dangerous than at any time since pioneer days. If you’re from Texas you know the border has always been a challenge with illegal immigration and smuggling, which has ebbed and flowed in severity over the decades. Like all criminal activity, vigorous law enforcement efforts have controlled the problems but will never totally eradicate it. But where just a few short years ago we dealt primarily with non-violent folks crossing illegally to look for work, we now deal with the most vicious drug gangs in the world, who have killed over 60,000 people on the Mexican side of the river. And the killings are now spilling over onto our side.

I personally have friends who have sold their border property after it became just too dangerous to work anymore. Many have to carry arms suitable for a war zone on their own land. The drug cartels are becoming more aggressive every year, with many no longer fearing being spotted. And it’s not just ranches adjoining the river, the cartels are impacting farms and ranches 60 miles and more inside our country, as the drug caravans make their way past Border Patrol check-points. This is not tolerable for free Americans in their own country in their own homes and on their own land. Defending the borders of the United States is the duty of the federal government, and in spite of our fine Border Patrol officers doing their jobs, we have not provided adequate resources to protect our citizens.

Last year I introduced two specific bills to beef up – no pun intended – border security without undermining our border economy. The Border States Security Improvement Act, H.R. 2025, would allow our border Governors to call out the National Guard, highway patrol, Texas Rangers, state Defense Force and whoever else necessary to secure our border at federal expense for up to 180 days at a time, with the ability to renew the deployment an additional 90 days if needed. The Southern Border Sheriff’s Community Impact Aid Act, HR 2217, would provide federal funding for border county sheriffs to increase their in-the-field deputy manpower by 30 percent to provide the additional boots needed to keep the cartels off-balance full-time.

I am working for improved resources for all law enforcement agencies who are partners in protecting our border, including the U.S. Border Patrol, National Park Service law enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard, and local and state agencies. We won’t have much ranching left along the Rio Grande unless we find a way to restore border security for our ranchers. We also won’t have much ranching left along the Rio Grande if we fence off our ranchers from the river.

With the solutions we have available, there is no reason we can’t restore ranch security without destroying the ranch first.



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