The 16 Texas counties that border Mexico face challenges that the rest of the state — the rest of the nation — might have a hard time understanding.
From the intricacies of a border economy in which customers walk to another country for afternoon shopping trips to the irrigation needs of farmers in a drought-prone region, life along the Rio Grande contains elements not found anywhere else in Texas. Add law enforcement in the form of anti-illegal immigration and anti-drug efforts, along with security concerns in the ongoing battle against terrorists, and you get police work intertwined with foreign policy.
At a conference in Del Rio last week, border sheriffs said they don’t necessarily have the resources to deal with illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and possible terrorists attempting to infiltrate the country. They also pointed out that federal law enforcement agencies aren’t sharing information with their local counterparts along the Rio Grande.
The sheriffs want to see their departments receive more federal grant money, citing their role as “the first line of defense for the country,” as Terrell County Sheriff Clint McDonald said. That’s not unreasonable. After all, homeland security grants should go to the agencies that could use it, for personnel and equipment.
But that’s not where the money’s going. Instead of being used for real security measures, the funds go to pork barrel projects such as a $100,000 gym for the Port Isabel Volunteer Fire Department. If Congress would ensure that homeland security grants went to agencies that actually need them, it would go a long way to helping overworked sheriff’s departments.
Still, the sheriffs and their deputies have plenty to do. Congress could make their jobs even easier if it would reform our immigration and drug laws, freeing up all law enforcement agencies to go after violent criminals and watch out for terrorists.
The current immigration system does little more than provide incentives for human smugglers to bring more people across, providing an infrastructure that terrorists could use to sneak into the United States. It also forces noncitizens looking for work to take desert routes that often result in death.
A guest worker program — one that includes protections for workers, so unscrupulous employers can’t take advantage of them — would take that pressure off the Border Patrol, allowing legitimate workers into the country and freeing agents to concentrate their efforts on the bad guys.
In a similar vein, this nation needs to reform its drug laws. Right now, U.S. drug policies enrich drug lords, because prohibition causes scarcity, which in turn causes prices to rise. If it decriminalized certain substances and focused on treatment instead, the U.S. would cause drug prices to drop and cartels’ income to plunge. This would also free up law enforcement agents to look for terrorists instead of worrying about drug runners.
The unique aspects of the Texas border present a challenge to those who live along it. We hope federal lawmakers recognize that challenge and act to help residents face it.