Immigration crisis harms Texas farmers and ranchers

By Jennifer Whitlock

A recent surge of immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has drawn national attention to the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas, with many calling the situation a humanitarian crisis. Local government resources are being exhausted in counties in and around the border.

But it’s not just an immigrant crisis, said Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) District 13 State Director Scott Frazier. During a U.S. House Judiciary Committee press conference in Edinburg on Wednesday, Frazier said Texans are also negatively impacted by the massive influx.

Frazier said the human smuggling, trafficking and violent acts of crime perpetrated against immigrants is horrendous and not to be downplayed, but destruction is also inflicted on Texas farmers and ranchers in the midst of the chaos.

“You see the human smuggling and trafficking going on, small children being thrown over fences and dropped over fences, and things like that are terrible to see,” he said. “But the damage they do to farms and ranches when they knock down fences during bailouts and various things, those hurt people on this side.”

Farmers and ranchers also face threats to themselves, their families and their employees from human smugglers, known as “coyotes,” and Mexican cartel members engaged in human trafficking.

Coyotes and cartel members illegally lead groups of people into the U.S., frequently using stolen vehicles with the seating removed to pack in as many people as possible. The criminals abandon the vehicles on rural stretches of roadways when law enforcement attempt to pull them over and destroy private property as they try to escape, according to Frazier.

“They’ll just run through a fence and tear up anything they need to, to try and get away,” he said.

Immigrants avoiding apprehension will scatter throughout the area, sometimes breaking into nearby homes, barns and vehicles along the way. According to local reports, over the weekend of April 2-4 there were more than 20 high-speed chases through and near the city of Uvalde alone.

Additional challenges posed by groups of immigrants traveling across farms and ranches include the need to clean up large amounts of trash left behind. South Texas farmers and ranchers say it’s also not uncommon to find stragglers who have been abandoned by the coyotes, because they were too weak or ill to keep up.
While farmers and ranchers do have a need for a robust labor force, entering the U.S. illegally is not the way to go about gaining employment, Frazier said.

He worries halting the construction of the U.S. border wall will have other negative effects on Texas agriculture and Rio Grande Valley residents, as well.

“Right now, since construction is on hold, we basically have these gaping holes in the levies that, if we were to get a flood event, would be catastrophic to many folks on the border in agriculture and outside of agriculture, also,” he said. “When the work on the border wall was stopped, levies were left knocked down or unfinished. They protect not only farmland but cities and towns from floods. So, if we get a big flood event, it will certainly damage a lot of crops and livestock, but it will also damage towns and cities along the river downstream from where the levies were breached.”

The 10-member delegation of the House Judiciary Committee, led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, met with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials, toured migrant processing facilities and visited the border wall outside McAllen this week.

Frazier met with the lawmakers to discuss the challenges and issues Texas farmers and ranchers face in dealing with increased illegal immigration across their lands. The group is set to wrap up their visit to the southern border on Friday.

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