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Southern border tour reveals heartbreaking situation

August 13, 2021

Farm Bureau presidents hear firsthand concerns of farmers being threatened by human smugglers who abandon people, steal vehicles and vandalize property.

By: Jacqui Fatka

Earlier this summer all 50 state farm bureaus signed onto a letter urging the Biden administration to address the surge of undocumented immigrants entering the United States. In an effort to see firsthand the impact on farmers, American Farm Bureau Federation Zippy Duvall spent several days visiting with farmers and legislators in the area discussing the impacts on an influx of individuals crossing the border that is putting farmers in the crosshairs.

“We’ve seen how serious this situation is for farmers. It’s heartbreaking,” shares Duvall.

The tour started in McAllen, Texas then to Mission, Del Rio and on to Las Cruces, New Mexico and Deming, N.M. Duvall also hosted a roundtable with farmers and ranchers from both New Mexico and Arizona in Lordsburg, New Mexico.

“They’ve experienced people coming across for decades, but never at the levels seen today,” Duvall adds. These farmers and ranchers are worried about their safety, security of their property and farm machinery and equipment as some have had their homes looted, fences torn down numerous times in a day and water sources tampered with and compromised, he continues.

Russel Boening, president of the Texas Farm Bureau, notes that farmers in McAllen and then upriver to Del Rio face different issues caused by the same problem. In McAllen, family units and unaccompanied minors are turning themselves into border agents seeking asylum. Border agents are overwhelmed with the paperwork and struggle to offer basic services for their needs.

In Del Rio, some are seeking asylum, but the majority are not wanting to get caught, Boening explains. These individuals are going through private property and destroying fences and leaving their belongings behind.

“These folks along the border have faced these issues for decades and generations, but not at this level,” Boening says. But those crossing today are unlike those who came years prior. It’s a different personality and different demographic not trying to get caught. There are larger numbers who are more aggressive, he explains.

The letter this summer was sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The letter generated a call with the farm bureau presidents in the four bordering states with representatives from the White House, but unfortunately additional action has not been taken to slow the ongoing rush of individuals unlawfully crossing the border, the presidents and Duvall said in a media call following the tour.

Duvall says he heard from border security officials they need more manpower and technology. As those seeking asylum overwhelm border agents at places of entry to do documentation work, it has left the border not being watched in other areas.  

Craig Ogden, president of the New Mexico Farm Bureau, says new technology could help detect movement along the border such as air balloons with infrared cameras or ground sensors. Instead, old technology essentially drags tires that smooth the ground to see if there are new footprints. Those smuggling people and drugs across the border are using better technology and drones to get over the border undetected.

Boening says he is imploring people study the situation and get an understanding of the depth of the problem. “What we’re hearing from elected officials is just a feeling of frustration and helplessness. A lot of folks don’t realize the gravity of the situation and the circumstance they’re dealing with.”

Boening adds so few asylum seekers actually show up for their court date, and even fewer are granted asylum. I think the word needs to get back to countries that these individuals are coming from that there should be a pause coming in at the border.

“So many folks are coming and it’s overwhelming the services folks can provide. Many are being transported out to other cities and states. They’re going to be a drag on services there. We need a pause and figure out how we’re going to do it,” Boening says.

Ogden adds the issue should not be political and “shouldn’t be put up on a pedestal to have one party versus another.” He hopes both parties will work together to solve these problems. And both Republicans and Democrats representing those regions are speaking out.

Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, on Aug. 10 participated in the day-long series of events in which he received updates regarding the border crisis from local law enforcement, border patrol and farmers and ranchers. Gonzales was joined by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., for a ride-along with the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office, briefings from the Del Rio Sector Border Patrol, a tour of the Del Rio Border Patrol Station and a roundtable with the Duvall, Boening and local farmers and ranchers.

“Del Rio and Uvalde are two areas in the country that see and experience the border crisis every day,” says Tony Gonzales. “These are the border communities that are having their livelihoods threatened due to the inaction from the White House.” 

In a statement issued August 5, Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, D-Texas, says he continued to demand answers and resources from the Biden administration in regard to the influx of migrants at the border and their release into our community.

“The Biden administration lacks a clear and defined process for the testing of migrants and continues to depend on third-party partners for a job it should be doing. Hospitals are also responding to a state and nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases and patients,” Vincente Gonzales says.  

In the days prior, Vincente Gonzales said he met with the Speaker of the House and DHS Secretary Mayorkas and discussed the urgent need for immediate engagement and assistance to improve the situation in South Texas and his proposal to establish in-country asylum processing.  

“I am focused on solutions that will help our community and demanding the federal government take more responsibility instead of relying on state and local governments to provide support for our hospitals and non-profits. I am in contact with local officials, DHS and the White House on the ongoing developments and am committed to a long-term legislative solution to address the root causes of migration and relief for South Texans,” Vincente Gonzales says.