February 3, 2006
South Texas landowners inundated by criminal element illegally entering the U.S. from Mexico...
Second of Two Parts
By Lana Robinson
Concerns continue to mount with respect to the broken border between Texas and Mexico, which increasingly serves as a portal for those involved in illegal drug and human trafficking and potentially those with terrorist intentions. Farm Bureau denounces illegal immigration and the erosion of landowner rights as a result of unwanted intruders. However, the organization insists that legislation that addresses border security alone will not totally solve the problem.
"As President Bush has outlined, immigration reform is a three-legged stool of border security, workplace enforcement and temporary worker provisions. To be considered a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, a bill must include a temporary worker program," said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stall-man, a Columbus, Texas rice and cattle producer.
A temporary worker program is increasingly important to all agricultural sectorscrops and livestock. AFBF estimates that passage of border security legislation without an adequate guest worker program could cost farmers and ranchers as much as $5 billion to $9 billion annually.
"This could have a larger impact on agriculture than all the recent trade agreements passed by Congress," said Steve Pringle, Legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau.
In August, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn met with a group of landowners in Victoria regarding border security problems, or what he termed as the border "insecurity" problem. Cornyn subsequently crafted legislation aimed at stopping illegal immigration and expanding authority locally to detain those here illegally.
During his address before voting delegates at the 72nd Texas Farm Bureau annual meeting in December, Cornyn said, "Basically, the nature of immigration, and the people coming across, has really changed. It's not just people coming across to work. It's people from Central America who are members of violent criminal gangs. Even international terrorists, we know, are scouting out the various ways that other illegal immigrants come into the country. They are trying to exploit that, and so we know that international terrorism is a reality we have to deal with. We've seen a spike in the number of people coming from countries other than Mexico, which basically tells us that human smugglers from around the world, and immigrants who are trying to get into the United States, are using our porous southern border and frequently coming up through Central Mexico through Mexico's porous southern border. So this is a real problem and we simply have to come to grips with it now. We can't put it off anymore."
Working with Sen. John Kyl of Arizona, the two senators have filed a comprehensive immigration reform bill featuring four components that they say provide: 1) the financial and human resources needed to obtain operational security of U.S. borders; 2) training and resources for local law enforcement officials, at the county level, who are willing to help; 3) a two-year time limit for temporary, migrant workers; and 4) no limitation of seasonal workers who live in Mexico and work in the United States.
"We are trying to address border issues as well as economic and labor issues," Cornyn noted.
While the Cornyn legislation addresses guest worker provisions generally, Pringle said it does not specifically address agriculture guest workers under the H-2A program.
"However, Sen. Cornyn has indicated that he would hope that in the final version of his bill will include provisions from Sen. Saxby Cham-bliss's proposed legislation that does address the agriculture guest workers program," said Pringle. "Farm Bureau supports the Chambliss legislation, and we would support adding the Chambliss legislation to the Cornyn bill as a comprehensive bill to address border security and guest worker provisions."
Ned Meister, TFB director of Commodity and Regulatory Activities, emphasized that Texas Farm Bureau does not support amnesty for those immigrants who have entered the country illegally to work in agriculture.
"There are one or two states that say if amnesty is what it takes to get an agricultural guest worker program, they favor amnesty. But our people are holding pretty tight. Also, AFBF does not support the amnesty," Meister noted. "Our Farm Labor Advisory Committee is in the process of reviewing all of the pertinent legislation dealing with guest worker programs and will make recommendations to Sen. Cornyn on the applicability of the different components offered in the various bills."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, also present at the TFB annual meeting in Waco, has also sponsored an immigration reform measure in the U.S. Senate.
"The security of our country depends on securing our borders. We are not doing enough right now. We have caught 150,000 people, other than Mexicans, crossing into our country illegally. If that's how many we've caught, how many more didn't we catch? These are people from outside Mexico looking for something. We've found prayer rugs on the shores of the Rio Grande River, and Arabic instruction books. We must take some very strong steps," said Hutchison.
Hutchison said she had spoken with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about stopping the "catch and release" program currently in place for illegal aliens "other than Mexicans." Hutchison insisted that building temporary facilities to hold them would be more prudent than simply releasing them. Like the Cornyn-Kyl bill, Hutchison's legislation would empower local and state authorities to detain an illegal immigrant.
"That's something we could do now. This would be an option, not a mandate. It would include training for law enforcement. We need more hands on deck, not fewer, if we want to get a handle on this. This legislation is just another tool we can have to use," she said.
On Oct. 6, 2005, Reps. John Cul-berson (R-Houston) and Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso) introduced the Border Law Enforcement Act, which would provide authority and direct federal funding for border county sheriffs to assist Border Patrol agents in securing Texas' southern border.
The bill implements a plan called "Operation Linebacker," proposed by the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition, to form a secondary line of defense to protect the border. The bill would permit sheriffs to enforce federal immigration and drug trafficking laws within their counties, to prevent illegal entry into the United States, and to remove individuals who are here illegally. The bill also allows volunteers to serve under the command of border county sheriffs in whatever capacity the sheriffs deem appropriate. Representatives Henry Bonilla, Lamar Smith and Henry Cuellar joined Culberson and Reyes as original cosponsors of the bipartisan bill.
Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor advises landowners to take a proactive approach when illegal immigrants trespass on their private property.
"The first thing I tell them, personal safety is the biggest issue. Avoid confrontation if you can. I'd rather them be the best witness there is to tell us who they are and where they are, than to get into an altercation with someone and have some negative effect of a loss of life or injury. We do have resources by state and other agencies we can call upon to assist us," he said. "Most important, be aware of what you're doing and where you are at all times. If anything, be sure you have a good relationship with your local law enforcement and let them know what your concerns are so that they can address them and at least frequently come into your area if the resources are available."