By Freedom Newspapers
One thing is certain: Raj Bhakta loves attention. The Pennsylvania congressional candidate, best known as one of the many failures Donald Trump fired on his “Apprentice” television show, came to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley last week to pull a publicity stunt on the river.
The idea certainly was creative. But it didn’t work, and it raises concerns about the ease with which he was able to find protected animals and endanger them to make a point.
Bhakta got hold of three elephants and hired a six-piece mariachi band, and took them to an area near the mouth of the Rio Grande. He said he planned to have the mariachi lead the elephants across the river, to show how easy it would be to enter this country from Mexico.
Of course, he had to get into Mexico first, then cross back into the United States. And although the area isn’t blocked by any fence or National Guardsmen, Bhakta didn’t quite make it into Mexico.
A group of “tick riders,” hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to patrol the natural habitat along the river on horseback, came upon the group and started asking questions. They reportedly called other officials, and were soon joined by officials from both the USDA and Border Patrol, which has an inspection station nearby on Texas Highway 48.
Interestingly enough, some witnesses said that when the officials showed up, many people in Bhakta’s entourage scattered; you’d have thought they were illegal immigrants or something.
As it turned out, at least one of them was taken in as an undocumented immigrant. Bhakta, who was born in India, is a legal U.S. resident but didn’t have his papers. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly detained him for four hours before proof of legal U.S. residency could be ascertained.
In the end it appears that the system worked. Even though the only physical barrier on the border is the river, Bhakta and his group were stopped by government officials. The undocumented immigrant was detained — in this case Bhakta himself — until he could prove he was in this country legally. And although he told a Brownsville Herald reporter that they had enough time to cross back and forth 15 times, it’s curious then that they didn’t. Although Bhakta said that as “the band played on, the elephants splashed away,” people who were at the scene noted that the animals didn’t appear to have gotten wet.
Most concerning about this stunt is the apparent ease with which Bhakta was able to get the three elephants from the Shrine Circus. We don’t know if Shrine officials were aware of his intentions, but we do know that elephants are strong swimmers. But we don’t know how these animals weighing a couple of tons each would fare in the deep sediment, hydrilla and other obstacles that have entangled many crossers and led to untold numbers of deaths.
Elephants are protected species, and few would argue they deserve better consideration.
In the end they did OK. Because they were in a quarantined area, USDA officials took the animals into custody for a few hours and gave them a good going-over before releasing them back to their trainer. The elephants got themselves free health checks — and free tick baths.
Bhakta said he was inspired to perform, and film, his elaborate stunt after sitting by the river and watching a half-dozen men cross the river “with complete immunity.” Capturing that scene would have made his point quite clearly, probably better than hiring three elephants and a mariachi.
After all, the block-the-border crowd insist they’re motivated by concerns about our homeland security. And we’ve never heard of a single elephant flying a hijacked plane into a building.