More than three years ago, Todd Staples, Texas commissioner of agriculture, officially put his stamp on an issue seemingly unrelated to agriculture: illegal immigration.
After rural landowners reached out to him over the years, sharing stories of how illegal immigrants — specifically, drug cartels and other criminals — trespass farms and ranches, Staples spearheaded the creation of a website meant to spotlight the problem.
The creation of the Texas Department of Agriculture website in March 2011, called Protect Your Texas Border, is just one example of how Staples, a Republican and former Texas legislator, has worked to secure his state’s border with Mexico.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Signal, Staples talked about the consequences of the current border crisis in the Rio Grande Valley, and recommended solutions to fix it.
Q: As the Texas commissioner of agriculture, why did you get involved with issues related to illegal immigration?
A: Landowners reached out to me—landowners who were facing the daily threats and being chased off their property, who had real tangible stories [about how illegal immigration is affecting them]. At the time, the president [Barack Obama] and Janet Napolitano [then-secretary of Homeland Security] were saying the border was safer than ever. We wanted to tell the real story.
Q: In 2011—before the border crisis in Texas became well known to the public—you commissioned a strategic military assessment, produced by retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey and retired Army Major Gen. Robert Scales, about border security in the state. What did the report find?
A: We wanted to bring to light very serious, deadly threats occurring on our border. We knew no one was listening to Texas. We wanted to remove it from the political world, so we got a nonpartisan pair of generals who come from different political administrations, who spent their time protecting the border across the world. In general, the report showed that drug cartels are exploiting our porous border and infiltrating gangs in America. Texas has become operation ground zero for this activity and our rural communities are caught in the crossfire.
Q: What is causing the current crisis with unaccompanied minors and women with children from Central America?
A: In June 2012, when the president announced DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], I issued a press release the same day that said this piecemeal approach will be a greenlight from the president that it’s acceptable to disregard our border and flout our laws. I said it would only exacerbate the problem.
Today we are seeing it in full force. The 2008 law [the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act] has definitely played a part in the problem. But the president has authority under the law [through its “exceptional circumstances” provisions] to act on his own to accelerate some of the minors’ cases. The president has to enforce current law. And to people who say the children are coming because of violence in their home countries, I would say, why would they take a 1,700-mile trek in the hands of the scum of the earth if it’s as simple as leaving deplorable conditions?
Q: Why are the Central Americans coming to Texas, and not other border states?
A: A lot of it falls at the door of the Department of Health and Human Services [the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement is charged with housing the unaccompanied children at detention centers until it can unite the children with family or a sponsor in the United States, before they appear in immigration court to determine their status]. Texas has 30 of those shelters [detention centers]. California has three of them. So if are you sending unaccompanied minors, you are sending them to the Lonestar State, where the infrastructure is there to take care of those kids.
Q: How has the unaccompanied children issue, and the Border Patrol resources that have been diverted to respond to it, impacted “normal” traffic at the border?
A: The drug cartels are using the issue as shelter. The Border Patrol has to make sandwiches and pass out juice rather than stop the cartels. There’s continued misinformation coming out from federal officials, falsely proclaiming the border is secure. Everyone on ground knows this the farthest thing from the truth.Transnational criminal organizations are taking advantage of it.
Q: Border Patrol has recently reported a slowdown in apprehensions at the Texas border. Is that sustainable?
A: You cannot establish a trend with one week. I hope the surge of resources to the border is working. I hope they [people thinking of crossing illegally] realize there has been an increase in manpower. The thing about cartels is that they are very smart. They lay low for a while to take advantage of bigger gain opportunities and distract you from putting resources where they need to be.
Q: What solutions would you recommend to secure the border?
A: Texans have already stepped up, and we’re not waiting on the dysfunctional federal government. That’s why my agency helped fund Operation Drawbridge, where we buy cameras and coordinate with landowners to place them in strategic locations along the border. As of the end of June, the Drawbridge project has detected more than 90,300 criminal exploitations of the Texas-Mexico border, and has directly resulted in the apprehension of more than 44,200 people and more than 70 tons of narcotics.
But Congress still has to act. For one, not reforming the 2008 law sends the message that we are not serious. We need an immediate deployment of better technology and surveillance along the southern border. The National Guard should be activated immediately [Texas Gov. Rick Perry did so Monday]. We need an immediate deployment of additional immigration judges. We need to stop DACA. And we need to classify drug cartels as a terrorist threat, to cripple them financially. We have to have an effective show of force to show there is only one way to enter America and that’s through legal means.